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Geopolitical Journey

with George Friedman

Part 1: The Traveler
I try to keep my writing impersonal. My ideas are my own, of course, but I prefer
to keep myself out of it for three reasons. First, I’m far less interesting than my
writings are. Second, the world is also far more interesting than my writings and
me, and pretending otherwise is narcissism. Finally, while I founded STRATFOR,
I am today only part of it. My thoughts derive from my discussions and arguments
with the STRATFOR team. Putting my name on articles seems like a mild form of
plagiarism. When I do put my name on my articles (as Scott Stewart, Fred Burton
and others sometimes do) it’s because our marketing people tell us that we need
to “put a face” on the company. I’m hard pressed to understand why anyone
would want to see my face, or why showing it is good business, but I’ve learned
never to argue with marketing.

I’ve said all of this to prepare you for a series of articles that will be personal in a
sense, as they will be built around what I will be doing. My wife (who plans and
organizes these trips with precision) and I are going to visit several countries
over the next few weeks. My reasons for visiting them are geopolitical. These
countries all find themselves sharing a geopolitical dilemma. Each country is
fascinating in its own right, but geopolitics is what draws me to them now. I think
it might be of some value to our readers if I shared my thoughts on these
countries as I visit them. Geopolitics should be impersonal, yet the way we
encounter the world is always personal. Andre Malraux once said that we all
leave our countries in very national ways. A Korean visiting Paris sees it
differently than an American. The personal is the eccentric core of geopolitics.

There are those who travel to sample wine and others who travel to experience
art and others to enjoy the climate. I travel to sample the political fault lines in the
world, and I have done this all my life. This is an odd preference, but there might
be some others who share it. Traveling geopolitically is not complex, but it does

take some thought. I thought you might find my description of geopolitical travel
interesting. It’s how I think this series should start.

The geopolitical is about the intersection of geography and politics. It assumes

that the political life of humans is shaped by the place in which they live and that
the political patterns are frequently recurring because of the persistence of
nations and the permanence of geography. I begin my travels by always re-
reading histories and novels from the region. I avoid anything produced by a
think tank, preferring old poems and legends. When I travel to a place, when I
look at the geography and speak to the people, I find that there is a constant
recurrence of history. In many places, a few centuries ago is like yesterday.
Reading literature can be the best preparation for a discussion of a county’s
budget deficit. Every place and every conversation is embedded in the centuries
and the rivers and mountains that shaped the people who shape the centuries.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and withdrew to the borders of old
Muscovy, there were those who said that this was the end of the Russian empire.
Nations and empires are living things until they die. While they live they grow to
the limits set by other nations. They don’t grow like this because they are evil.
They do this because they are composed of humans who always want to be
more secure, more prosperous and more respected. It is inconceivable to me
that Russia, alive and unrestrained, would not seek to return to what it once was.
The frontiers of Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union had reasons for being where
they were, and in my mind, Russia would inevitably seek to return to its borders.
This has nothing to do with leaders or policies. There is no New World Order,
only the old one replaying itself in infinitely varying detail, like a kaleidoscope.

Our trip now is to countries within and near the Black Sea basin, so the
geopolitical “theme” of the trip (yes, my trips have geopolitical themes, which my
children find odd for some reason) is the Russian re-emergence as viewed by its
western and southwestern neighbors: Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Poland and
Ukraine. I was born in Hungary and have been there many times, so I don’t need
to go there this time, and I know Slovakia well. My goal is to understand how
these other countries see and wish the present to be. It’s not that I believe that
their visions and hopes will shape the future — the world is not that
accommodating — but because I want to see the degree to which my sense of
what will happen and their sense of what will happen diverge.

This is the political theme of the trip, but when I look at these countries
geographically, there are several other organizing themes as well. Turkey,
Romania, Ukraine and in a way Moldova are all partly organized around the
Black Sea and interact with each other based on that. It’s a sea of endless
history. I am also visiting some of the countries in the Carpathian Mountains, a
barrier that has divided the Russian empire from Europe for centuries, and which

the Russians breached in World War II, partly defining the Cold War. Romania,
Ukraine, Moldova and even southern Poland cannot be understood without
understanding the role the Carpathians play in uniting them and dividing them.
Finally, I am visiting part of the North European Plain, which stretches from
France into Russia. It is the path Napoleon and Hitler took into Russia, and the
path Russia took on its way to Berlin. Sitting on that plain is Poland, a country
whose existence depends on the balance of power between other countries on
the plain, a plain that provides few natural defenses to Poland and that has made
Poland a victim many times over. I want to understand whether this time will be
different and to find out whether the Poles realize that in order for things to be
different the Poles themselves must be different, since the plain is not going to
stop being flat.

Part of traveling geopolitically is the simple experience of a place. The luxury of a

hotel room facing the Bosporus, and me with a drink in hand and the time to
watch the endless line of ships passing through the narrow straits, teaches me
more about Alexander’s conquests, Britain’s invasion of Gallipoli or Truman’s
obsession with Turkey than all the books I’ve read and maps I’ve pored over.
Walking a mountain path in the Carpathians in November, where bandits move
about today as they did centuries ago, teaches me why this region will never be
completely tamed or easily captured. A drive through the Polish countryside near
Warsaw will remind me why Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin took the path they did,
and why Poland thinks the way it does.

The idea of seeing geographical reality is not confined to this trip. I recall visiting
Lake Itasca in Minnesota, where the Mississippi River begins, following it to St.
Louis, where the Missouri flows into it, and then going down to New Orleans,
where the goods are transferred between river barges and ocean-going vessels.
Nothing taught me more about American power and history than taking that trip
and watching the vast traffic in grain and steel move up and down the river. It
taught me why Andrew Jackson fought at New Orleans and why he wanted

Texas to rebel against Mexico. It explained to me why Mark Twain, in many
ways, understood America more deeply than anyone.

In visiting countries of the Black Sea basin, I am fortunate that a number of

political leaders and members of the media are willing to meet with me. Although
not something new, this access still startles me. When I was younger, far less
savory people wanted to make my acquaintance. A cup of coffee and serious
conversation in a warm office with influential people is still for me a rite of

These visits have their own dangers, different from older dangers in younger
days. Political leaders think in terms of policies and options. Geopolitics teaches
us to think in terms of constraints and limits. According to geopolitics, political
leaders are trapped by impersonal forces and have few options in the long run.
Yet, in meeting with men and women who have achieved power in their country,
the temptation is to be caught up in their belief in what they are going to do.
There is a danger of being caught up in their passion and confidence. There is
also the danger of being so dogmatic about geopolitics that ignoring their vision
blinds me to possibilities that I haven’t thought of or that can’t simply be
explained geopolitically. Obviously, I want to hear what they have to say, and this
trip presents a rare and precious opportunity. But these meetings always test my
ability to maintain my balance.

I should add that I make it a practice to report neither whom I meet with nor what
they say. I learn much more this way and can convey a better sense of what is
going on. The direct quote can be the most misleading thing in the world. People
ask me about STRATFOR’s sources. I find that we can be more effective in the
long run by not revealing those sources. Announcing conversations with the
great is another path to narcissism. Revealing conversations with the less than
great can endanger them. Most important, a conversation that is private is more
human and satisfying than a conversation that will be revealed to many people.
Far better to absorb what I learn and let it inform my own writing than to replicate

what reporters will do far better than I can. I am not looking for the pithy quote,
but for the complex insight that never quite reduces itself to a sentence or two.

There is another part of geopolitical travel that is perhaps the most valuable:
walking the streets of a city. Geopolitics affects every level of society, shaping life
and culture. Walking the streets, if you know what to look for, can tell you a great
deal. Don’t go to where the monuments and museums are, and don’t go to where
the wealthy live. They are the least interesting and the most globally
homogenized. They are personally cushioned against the world. The poor and
middle class are not. If a Montblanc store is next to a Gucci shop, you are in the
wrong place.

Go to the places where the people you will never hear of live. Find a school and
see the children leave at the end of the day. You want the schools where there is
pushing and shoving and where older brothers come to walk their sister’s home.
You are now where you should be. Look at their shoes. Are they old or new? Are
they local or from the global market? Are they careful with them as if they were
precious or casual with them as they kick a ball around? Watch children play
after school and you can feel the mood and tempo of a neighborhood.

Find a food store. Look at the food being offered, particularly fruits and
vegetables. Are they fresh-looking? What is the selection? Look at the price and
calculate it against what you know about earnings. Then watch a woman (yes, it
is usually a woman) shopping for groceries. Does she avoid the higher priced
items and buy the cheapest? Does she stop to look at the price, returning a can
or box after looking, or does she simply place it in her basket or cart without
looking at the price? When she pays for the food, is she carefully reaching into
an envelope in her pocketbook where she stores her money, or does she
casually pull out some bills? Watch five women shopping for food in the late
afternoon and you will know how things are there.

Go past the apartments people live in. Smell them. The unhealthy odor of decay
or sewage tells you about what they must endure in their lives. Are there banks in
the neighborhood? If not, there isn’t enough business there to build one. The
people are living paycheck to paycheck. In the cafes where men meet, are they
older men, retired? Or are they young men? Are the cafes crowded with men in
their forties drinking tea or coffee, going nowhere? Are they laughing and talking
or sitting quietly as if they have nothing left to say? Official figures on
unemployment can be off a number of ways. But when large numbers of 40-year-
old men have nothing to do, then the black economy — the one that pays no
taxes and isn’t counted by the government but is always there and important —
isn’t pulling the train. Are the police working in pairs or alone? What kind of
weapons do they carry? Are they everywhere, nowhere or have just the right
presence? There are endless things you can learn if you watch.

All of this should be done unobtrusively. Take along clothes that are a bit shabby.
Buy a pair of shoes there, scuff them up and wear them. Don’t speak. The people
can smell foreigners and will change their behavior when they sense them. Blend
in and absorb. At the end of a few days you will understand the effects of the
world on these people.

On this I have a surreal story to tell. My wife and I were in Istanbul a few months
ago. I was the guest of the mayor of Istanbul, and his office had arranged a
lecture I was to give. After many meetings, we found ourselves with free time and
went out to walk the city. We love these times. The privacy of a crowded street is
a delight. As we walked along we suddenly stopped. There, on a large billboard,
was my face staring down at us. We also discovered posters advertising my
lecture. We slunk back to our hotel. Fortunately, I am still sufficiently obscure that
no one will remember me, so this time we will try our walk again.

There are three things the geopolitical traveler must do. He must go to places
and force himself to see the geography that shapes everything. He must meet
with what leaders he can find who will talk to him in all parts of society, listening

and talking but reserving a part of his mind for the impersonal reality of the world.
Finally, he must walk the streets. He won’t have time to meet the schoolteachers,
bank tellers, government employees and auto repairmen who are the substance
of a society. Nor will they be comfortable talking to a foreigner. But geopolitics
teaches that you should ignore what people say and watch what they do.

Geopolitics is everywhere. Look at the patterns of an American election and you

will see it at work. I would like, at some point, to have the leisure to study the
geopolitics of the United States in detail. But geopolitics is most useful in
understanding conflict, and therefore the geopolitical traveler will be drawn to
places where tensions are high. That’s a pity, but life places the important above
the interesting.

In future pieces, I will be writing about the region I am visiting in a way more
familiar to our readers. The next one will be about the region as a whole. The
series will replace my weekly geopolitical analyses for several weeks, but I hope
you will find it of value. By all means, let us know what you think. We do read all
of your emails, even if there isn’t time to answer them. So what you say can help
shape this series as well as our work in general.

Part 2: Borderlands
A borderland is a region where history is constant: Everything is in flux. The
countries we are visiting on this trip (Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and
Poland) occupy the borderland between Islam, Catholicism and Orthodox
Christianity. Roman Catholic Hapsburg Austria struggled with the Islamic
Ottoman Empire for centuries, with the Ottomans extending northwest until a
climactic battle in Vienna in 1683. Beginning in the 18th century, Orthodox
Russia expanded from the east, through Belarus and Ukraine. For more than two
centuries, the belt of countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas was
the borderland over which three empires fought.

There have been endless permutations here. The Cold War was the last clear-
cut confrontation, pitting Russia against a Western Europe backed — and to a
great extent dominated — by the United States. This belt of countries was firmly
if informally within the Soviet empire. Now they are sovereign again. My interest
in the region is to understand more clearly how the next iteration of regional
geopolitics will play out. Russia is far more powerful than it was 10 years ago.
The European Union is undergoing internal stress and Germany is recalculating
its position. The United States is playing an uncertain and complex game. I want
to understand how the semicircle of powers, from Turkey to Poland, are thinking
about and positioning themselves for the next iteration of the regional game.

I have been accused of thinking like an old Cold warrior. I don’t think that’s true.
The Soviet Union has collapsed, and U.S. influence in Europe has declined.
Whatever will come next will not be the Cold War. What I do not expect this to be
is a region of perpetual peace. It has never been that before. It will not be that in
the future. I want to understand the pattern of conflict that will occur in the future.
But for that we need to begin in the past, not with the Cold War, but with World
War I.

Regional Reshaping after World War I

World War I created a radically new architecture in this region. The Ottoman and
Austro-Hungarian empires collapsed, the Russian empire was replaced by the
Soviet Union, and the German empire was overthrown and replaced by a
republic. No region in the world suffered more or was left more impoverished by
the war than this region. Indeed, the war didn’t end for them in 1918. It went on
as the grip of empires reluctantly subsided and the new nations struggled within
and among themselves.

The collapse of empires allowed a range of nations to emerge as independent
nations. From the Baltic States to Bulgaria, nations became nation-states. Many
of the borders and some of the nations were fixed by the victorious powers at
Versailles and Trianon. They invented Yugoslavia, which means “land of the
southern Slavs,” out of a collection of hostile nations. They reshaped their
borders. If France, Britain and the United States shaped the region, the Poles
saved it.

The border between the Russian empire/Soviet Union and Europe is divided into
two parts. The Carpathian Mountains form a rough boundary between the
Russians and the rest of Europe from Slovakia to the south. These mountains
are not particularly tall, but they are rugged, with scattered villages and few good
roads. The Carpathians have belonged at various times to all of the countries in
the region, but the Carpathians are not easily controlled. Even today, bandits rule
parts of it. It is not impossible to move an army across it, but it is not easy, either.

The northern part of Europe is dominated by a vast plain stretching from France
to Moscow. It is flat and marshy to the north but generally good terrain for armies
to move on. Except for some river barriers, it is the route of Europe’s conquerors.
Napoleon moved along the plain to Moscow, as did Hitler (who moved across the
Caucasus as well). Stalin returned the way Napoleon and Hitler came.

The Intermarium

Following World War I, Poland re-emerged as a sovereign nation. The Soviet

Union had capitulated to Germany in 1917 and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
in 1918, which ceded a great deal of territory, including Ukraine, to Germany.
With Germany’s defeat, Brest-Litovsk lost its force and the Russians tried to
regain what they had given away in that treaty. Part of that was Poland. In 1920,
a climactic battle took place in Warsaw, when an army led by Polish Gen. Jozef

Pilsudski, who had struck an alliance with Ukraine that couldn’t work, blocked a
Soviet invasion.

Pilsudski is an interesting figure, a reactionary in some ways, a radical in others.

But it was his geopolitical vision that interests me. He was, above all else, a
Polish nationalist, and he understood that Russia’s defeat by Germany was the
first step to an independent Poland. He also believed that Polish domination of
Ukraine — an ancient ploy — would guarantee Poland’s freedom after Germany
was defeated. His attempt to ally with Ukraine failed. The Russians defeated the
Ukrainians and turned on Poland. Pilsudski defeated them.

It is interesting to speculate about history if Pilsudski had lost Warsaw. The North
European Plain was wide open, and the Soviets could have moved into
Germany. Undoubtedly, the French would have moved to block them, but there
was a powerful Communist Party in France that had little stomach for war. It
could have played out many different ways had Pilsudski not stopped the
Russians. But he did.

Pilsudski had another idea. Germany was in shambles, as was Russia, but both
would be back. An alliance in place before they revived would, in Pilsudski’s
mind, save the region. His vision was something called the Intermarium — an
alliance of the nations between the seas built around Poland and including
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Baltic states. This never
came to be, but if it had, World War II may never have happened or could have
played out in a different way. It is an idea that has been in my mind of late,
thinking about what comes after NATO and ambitious concepts of European
federation. Pilsudski’s Intermarium makes a kind of logical if not historical sense.
It is not historical because this borderland has always been the battleground for
others. It has never formed together to determine its fate.

The Russian-German Relationship

In many ways, this matter doesn’t rest in these states’ hands. It depends partly
on what Russia wants and plans to do and it depends on what Europe wants and
plans to do. As always, the Intermarium is caught between Russia and Europe.
There is no southern European power at the moment (the Austro-Hungarian
empire is a memory), but in the north there is Germany, a country struggling to
find its place in Europe and in history.

In many ways, Germany is the mystery. The 2008 Greek crisis shocked the
Germans. They had seen the European Union as the solution to European
nationalism and an instrument of prosperity. When the crisis struck, the Germans
found that nationalism had reared its head in Germany as much as it had in other
countries. The Germans didn’t want to bail out the Greeks, and the entire
question of the price and value of the European Union became a central issue in
Germany. Germany has not thought of itself as a freestanding power since 1945.
It is beginning to think that way again, and that could change everything,
depending on where it goes.

One of the things it could change is German-Russian relations. At various times

since 1871 and German re-unification, the Germans and Russians have been
allies as well as mortal enemies. Right now, there is logic in closer German-
Russian ties. Economically they complement and need each other. Russia
exports raw materials; Germany exports technology. Neither cares to be
pressured by the United States. Together they might be able to resist that
pressure. There is a quiet romance under way between them.

And that rivets my attention on the countries I am visiting. For Poland, the
specter of a German-Russian entente is a historical nightmare. The last time this
happened, in 1939, Poland was torn apart and lost its sovereignty for 50 years.
There is hardly a family in Poland who can’t name their dead from that time. Of

course, it is said that this time it would be different, that the Germans are no
longer what they were and neither are the Russians. But geopolitics teaches that
subjective inclinations do not erase historical patterns. Whatever the Poles think
and say, they must be nervous although they are not admitting it. Admitting fear
of Germany and Russia would be to admit distrust, and distrust is not permitted
in modern Europe. Still, the Poles know history, and it will be good to see what
they have to say — or at least how they say it. And it is of the greatest
importance to hear what they say and don’t say about the United States under
these circumstances.

Romania’s Role

The Romanians are in a different position. The Romanians are buffered against
the Russians by Ukraine and Moldova, and their sense of unease should be
lower. Unlike the Poles and the North European Plain, they at least have the
Carpathians running through their country. But what are we to make of Ukraine?
Their government is pro-Russian and trapped by economic realities into strong
Russian ties. Certainly, the increasingly German-led European Union is not going
to come to their rescue. The question in Ukraine is whether their attempt to
achieve complete independence is over, to be replaced by some informal but iron
bond to Russia, or whether the Ukrainians still have room to maneuver. It seems
from a distance that there is little room for them to breathe, let alone maneuver,
but this is a question to be put to Ukrainians. They will, of course, vigorously
assert their independence, but it will be important to listen to what is not said and
what is answered by small shrugs and resignation. There is no more important
question in Europe at the moment than the future of Ukraine.

For Romania, this is vital because its buffer could turn into its boundary if the
Russians return to the border. This is why Moldova matters as well. Moldova
used to be called Bessarabia. When Stalin made his deal with Hitler in 1939, part

of the deal was that Bessarabia, then part of Romania, an ally of Germany, would
be seized by the Soviets. This moved Romania farther from the port of Odessa,
the critical port on the Black Sea, and across the Dniester River. Bessarabia
remained part of the Soviet Union after the war. When the Soviet Union
collapsed, Moldova became independent, stretching from Romania to the
eastern bank of the Dniester. The area east of the Dniester, Transdniestria,
promptly seceded from Moldova, with Russian help. Moldova became a
Romanian-speaking buffer on the Dniester River.

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. Its primary export is wine, sent mostly
to Russia. The Russians have taken to blocking the export of wine for “health
reasons.” I think the health issue is geopolitical and not biological. If Moldova is
an independent, pro-European state, Ukraine is less isolated than the Russians
would like it to be. Moldova could, in the distant future, be a base for operations
against Russian interests. Every inch that potential enemies are from Odessa is
beneficial. There was a reason why Stalin wanted to take Bessarabia from Hitler.
That consideration has not dissolved, and the Russians are acting to isolate and
pressure Moldova right now and, with it, Romania.

My visit to Romania and Moldova is to try to get a sense of how they view the
situation in Ukraine, what they think Russian intentions are and what they plan to
do — if anything. Romania is always a hard country to read. Geopolitically, its
capital is on the wrong side of the Carpathians if the Russians are the threat, on
the right side if Austria or Germany is the threat. Romania is oriented toward the
European Union but is one of the many countries in the union that may not really
belong there. Unlike the Poles, for whom history and resistance is a tradition, the
Romanians accommodate themselves to the prevailing winds. It will be good to
find out where they feel the winds are blowing from right now. I doubt that they
will do anything to save Moldova and anger Moscow, but it is not clear whether
Moldova is in danger. Still, this much is clear: If the Russians are reclaiming
Ukraine, then Moldova is an important piece of territory, not only to protect
Ukraine but also to create options toward Romania and southwestern Europe.

Sometimes small pieces of land that are not on anyone’s mind represent the test

Turkey is a place I have gone to several times in the past few years and expect
to revisit many times. In my book, “The Next 100 Years,” I argued that Turkey will
be a great power in the next 50 years or so. I’m comfortable with my long-term
prediction, but the next decade will be a period of transition for Turkey, from
being one of the countries confronting the Soviets under the U.S. alliance system
to being a resurgent power in its own right. It will be no one’s pawn, and it will be
asserting its interests beyond its borders. Indeed, as its power increases in the
Balkans, Turkey will be one of the forces that countries like Romania will have to

I will be interested in hearing from the Romanians and Moldovans what their view
of Turkey is at this point. Its re-emergence will be a slow process, with inevitable
setbacks and disappointments, but even now its commercial influence can be felt
in the Black Sea basin. I will be interested in hearing from the Turks how they
view the Russians (and, of course, Iran and the Arab countries as well as Central
Asia). Russia as seen through the eyes of its neighbors is the purpose of this trip,
and that’s the conversation I will want to have. Poles, Ukrainians, Romanians
and Moldovans will all want to talk about Russia. The Turks will want to discuss
many issues, Russia perhaps least of all. I will have to work hard to draw them
out on this.

A Geopolitical Theory

In the end, I am going to the region with an analytic framework, a theory that I will
want to test. It is a theory that argues that the post-Cold War world is ending.
Russia is re-emerging in a historically recognizable form. Germany is just
beginning the process of redefining itself in Europe, and the EU’s weaknesses
have become manifest. Turkey has already taken the first steps toward becoming

a regional power. We are at the beginning of a period in which these forces play
themselves out.

For the United States, Turkey’s emergence is beneficial. The United States is
ending its wars in the region, and Turkey is motivated to fill the vacuum left and
combat radical Islam. Those who argue that the Turkish government is radically
Islamist are simply wrong, for two reasons. First, Turkey is deeply divided, with
the powerful heirs of the secular traditions of Kemal Ataturk on one side. They
are too strong to have radical Islam imposed on them. Second, the Islamism of
the Turkish government cannot possibly be compared to that of Saudi Arabia, for
example. Islam comes in many hues, as does Christianity, and the Turkish
version derives from Ottoman history. It is subtle, flexible and above all
pragmatic. It derives from a history in which Turkish Islam was allied with
Catholic Venice to dominate the Mediterranean. So Turkish Islam is not strong
enough to impose itself on the secularists and too urbane to succumb to
simplistic radicalism. It will do what it has to do, but helping al Qaeda is not on its
agenda. Still, it will be good to talk to the secularists, who regard the current
government with fear and distrust, and see whether they remain as brittle as

While the United States can welcome a powerful Turkey, the same can’t be said
for a powerful Russia, particularly not one allied with Germany. The single
greatest American fear should not be China or al Qaeda. It is the amalgamation
of the European Peninsula’s technology with Russia’s natural resources. That
would create a power that could challenge American primacy. That was what the
20th century was all about. The German-Russian relationship, however early and
subdued it might be, must affect the United States.

It is not clear to me that the American leadership understands this. Washington’s

mind is an amalgam of post-Cold War cliches about Russia and Europe and an
obsession with terrorism. This is not a time of clear strategic thinking in
Washington. I find it irritating to go there, since they regard my views as alarmist

and extreme while I find their views outmoded and simplistic. It’s why I like
Austin. I know that the Poles, for example, are deeply concerned that
Washington doesn’t understand the issues. But in the United States, Washington
makes position papers and only rarely history. The United States is a vast nation,
and Washington thinks of itself as its center, but it really isn’t. The United States
doesn’t have a center. The pressures of the world and the public shape its
actions, albeit reluctantly.

I have no power to shape anything, but for Washington to support Poland they
need to be shown a path. In this case, I am going to explore the theory that
Pilsudski brought to the table, of the Intermarium. I regard NATO as a
bureaucracy overseeing an alliance whose mission was accomplished 20 years
ago. From an American point of view, moving France or Germany is both
impossible and pointless. They have their own interests and the wrong
geography. It is the Intermarium — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and
perhaps Bulgaria — that represents this generation’s alliance. It blocks the
Russians, splits them from the Germans and gently limits Turkey’s encroachment
in southeastern Europe.

The Intermarium countries remain infatuated with the European Union and
NATO, but the infatuation is declining. The year 2008 and Germany’s
indifference to these countries was not pleasant, and they are learning that
NATO is history. The Poles must be the leader of the bloc and the Romanians
the southern anchor. I think the Poles are thinking in these terms but the
Romanians are far from this idea. I’m not sure. I want to find out. For me, a U.S.-
backed Poland guarding the North European Plain, with Slovakia, Hungary and
Romania guarding the Carpathian approaches, would prevent what the United
States should fear the most: an alliance between Russia and Germany plus
Western Europe. The key is the changing perception of the European Union in
the Intermarium. I want to see how far this has come.

Nothing, of course, could be further from Washington’s mind. Washington still
thinks of Russia as the failed state of the 1990s. It simply doesn’t take it
seriously. It thinks of the European Union as having gone over a speed bump
from which it will recover. But mostly, Washington thinks about Afghanistan. For
completely understandable reasons, Afghanistan sucks up the bandwidth of
Washington, allowing the rest of the world to maneuver as it wishes.

As I said, I have no power to shape anything. But it is the charm of the United
States that powerlessness and obscurity is no bar to looking at the world and
thinking of what will come next. I am not making strategy but examining
geopolitical forces. I am not planning what should be but thinking about what will
likely happen. But in doing this I need a reality check, and for this reality check I
will start in Romania.

Part 3: Romania
In school, many of us learned the poem Invictus. It concludes with the line, “I am
the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This is a line that a Victorian
gentleman might bequeath to an American businessman. It is not a line that
resonates in Romania. Nothing in their history tells Romanians that they rule their
fate or dominate their soul. Everything in their history is a lesson in how fate
masters them or how their very soul is a captive of history. As a nation,
Romanians have modest hopes and expectations tempered by their past.

This sensibility is not alien to me. My parents survived the Nazi death camps,
returned to Hungary to try to rebuild their lives and then found themselves fleeing
the communists. When they arrived in America, their wishes were extraordinarily
modest, as I look back on it. They wanted to be safe, to get up in the morning, to
go to work, to get paid — to live. They were never under the impression that they
were the masters of their fate.

The problem that Romania has is that the world cares about it. More precisely, empires
collide where Romania is. The last iteration was the Cold War. Today, at the moment,
things seem easier, or at least less desperate, than before. Still, as I discussed in
Borderlands, the great powers are sorting themselves out again and therefore Romania is
becoming more important to others. It is not clear to me that the Romanians fully
appreciate the shift in the geopolitical winds. They think they can hide in Europe, and
perhaps they can. But I suspect that history is reaching for Romania again.

Geopolitics and Self-Mutilation

Begin with geography. The Carpathian Mountains define Romania, but in an odd
way. Rather than serving as the border of the country, protecting it, the
Carpathians are an arc that divides the country into three parts. To the south of

the mountains is the Wallachian Plain, the heart of contemporary Romania,
where its capital, Bucharest, and its old oil center, Ploesti, are located. In the east
of the Carpathians is the Moldavian Plain. To the northwest of the Carpathians is
Transylvania, more rugged, hilly country.

And this is the geopolitical tragedy of Romania. Romania is one nation divided by
its geography. None of the three parts is easy to defend. Transylvania came
under Hungarian rule in the 11th century, and Hungary came under Ottoman and
Austro-Hungarian rule. Wallachia came under Ottoman rule, and Moldavia came
under Ottoman and Russian rule. About the only time before the late 19th
century that Romania was united was when it was completely conquered. And
the only time it was completely conquered was when some empire wanted to
secure the Carpathians to defend itself.

Some of us experience geopolitics as an opportunity. Most of humanity

experiences it as a catastrophe. Romania has been a nation for a long time, but

rarely has it been a united nation-state. After becoming a nation-state in the late
19th century, it had a precarious existence, balanced between Austria-Hungary,
the Ottoman Empire and Russia, with Germany a more distant but powerful
reality. Romania spent the inter-war years trying to find its balance between
monarchy, authoritarianism and fascism, and it never quite found it. It sought
safety in an alliance with Hitler and found itself on the front lines in the German
invasion of Russia. To understand Romania as an ally one must bear this in
mind: When the Soviets began their great counterattack at Stalingrad, they
launched it over Romanian (and Hungarian) troops. Romanians maneuvered
themselves into the position of fighting and dying for the Germans, and then got
their revenge on the Germans by being slaughtered by the Soviets.

All of this led to Romania’s occupation by the Soviets, toward whom the
Romanians developed a unique strategy. The Hungarians rose up against the
Soviets and were crushed, and the Czechoslovaks tried to create a liberal
communist regime that was still loyal to the Soviets and were crushed. The
Romanians actually achieved a degree of autonomy from the Soviets in foreign
affairs. The way the Romanians got the Soviets to tolerate this was by building a
regime more rigid and oppressive than even that of the Soviet Union at the time.
The Soviets knew NATO wasn’t going to invade, let alone invade through
Romania. So long as the Romanian regime kept the people in line, the Russians
could tolerate their maneuvers. Romania retained its national identity and an
independent foreign policy but at a stunning price in personal freedom and
economic well-being.

Contemporary Romania cannot be understood without understanding Nicolae

Ceausescu. He called himself the “Genius of the Carpathians.” He may well have
been, but if so, the Carpathian definition of genius is idiosyncratic. The Romanian
communist government was built around communists who had remained in
Romania during World War II, in prison or in hiding. This was unique among the
Soviet Union’s Eastern European satellites. Stalin didn’t trust communists who
stayed home and resisted. He preferred communists who had fled to Moscow in

the 1930s and had proved themselves loyal to Stalin by their betrayal of others.
He sent Moscow communists to rule the rest of the newly occupied countries that
buffered Russia from the West. Not so in Romania, where native communists
ruled. After the death of the founder of communist Romania, Gheorghe
Gheorghiu-Dej, another Romanian communist who stayed in Romania ultimately
took over: Ceausescu. This was a peculiarity of Romanian communism that
made it more like Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia in foreign policy, and more like a
bad dream in domestic policy.

Ceausescu decided to pay off the national debt. His reason seemed to flow from
his foreign policy — he didn’t want Romania to be trapped by any country
because of its debt — and he repaid it by selling to other countries nearly
everything that was produced in Romania. This left Romania in staggering
poverty; electricity and heat were occasional things, and even food was scarce in
a country that had a lot of it. The Securitate, a domestic secret police whose
efficiency and brutality were impressive, suppressed unrest. Nothing in Romania
worked as well as the Securitate.

Herta Muller is a Romanian author who writes in German (she is part of

Romania’s ethnic German community) and who won the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 2009. One of her books, The Appointment, takes place in Romania
under the communists. It gives an extraordinary sense of a place ruled by the
Securitate. It is about a woman who is living her life, working at her job and
dealing with an alcoholic husband while constantly preparing for and living in
dread of appointments with the secret police. As in Kafka, what they are looking
for and what she is hiding are unclear. But the danger is unrelenting and
permeates her entire consciousness. When one reads this book, as I did in
preparing for this trip, one understands the way in which the Securitate tore apart
a citizen’s soul — and remembers that it was not a distant relic of the 1930s but
was still in place and sustaining the Romanian regime in 1989.

It was as if the price that Romania had to pay for autonomy was to punch itself in
the face continually. Even the fall of communism took a Romanian path. There
was no Velvet Revolution here but a bloody one, where the Securitate resisted
the anti-communist rising under circumstances and details that are still hotly
debated and unclear. In the end, the Ceausescus (Nicolae’s wife Elena was also
a piece of work, requiring a psychological genius to unravel) were executed and
the Securitate blended into civil society as part of the organized-crime network
that was mistaken for liberalization in the former Soviet empire by Western
academics and reporters at the time.

Romania emerged from the previous 70 years of ongoing catastrophe by

dreaming of simple things and having no illusions that these things were easy to
come by or things Romanians could control. As with much of Eastern Europe but
perhaps with a greater intensity, Romanians believed their redemption lay with
the West’s multilateral organizations. If they were permitted to join NATO and
especially the European Union, their national security needs would be taken care
of along with their economic needs. Romanians yearned to become European
simply because being Romanian was too dangerous.

The Redemption of Being European

In thinking of Romania, the phrase “institutionalized prisoner” comes to mind. In

the United States it is said that if someone stays in prison long enough, he
becomes “institutionalized,” someone who can no longer imagine functioning
outside a world where someone else always tells him what to do. For Romania,
national sovereignty has always been experienced as the process of
accommodating itself to more powerful nations and empires. So after 1991,
Romania searched for the “someone else” to which it could subordinate itself.
More to the point, Romania imbued these entities with extraordinary redemptive
powers. Once in NATO and the European Union, all would be well.

And until recently, all has been well, or well in terms of the modest needs of a
historical victim. The problem Romania has is that these sanctuaries are in many
ways illusions. It looks to NATO for defense, but NATO is a hollowed-out entity.
There is a new and ambitious NATO strategy, which sets a global agenda for the
organization. Long discussed, it is an exercise in meaninglessness. Countries
like Germany have no military with which to fulfill the strategy, assuming that any
agreement to act could be reached. NATO is a consensual organization, and a
single member can block any mission. The divergent interests of an expanded
NATO guarantee that someone will block everything. NATO is an illusion that
comforts the Romanians, but only if they don’t look carefully. The Romanians
seem to prefer the comforting illusion.

As for the European Union, there is a deep structural tension in the system. The
main European economic power is Germany. It is also the world’s second-largest
exporter. Its economy is built around exporting. For a country like Romania,
economic development requires that it take advantage of its wage advantage.
Lower wages allow developing countries to develop their economy through

exports. But Europe is dominated by an export superpower. Unlike the postwar
world, where the United States absorbed the imports of Germany and Japan
without needing to compete with them, Germany remains an exporting country
exporting into Romania and leaving precious little room for Romania to develop
its economy.

At this stage of its development, Romania should be running a trade surplus,

particularly with Germany, but it is not. In 2007, it exported about $40 billion
worth of goods and imported about $70 billion. In 2009, it exported the same $40
billion but cut imports to only $54 billion (still a negative). Forty percent of its
trade is with Germany, France and Italy, its major EU partners. But it is Germany
where the major problem is. And this problem is compounded by the fact that a
good part of Romania’s exports to Germany are from German-owned firms
operating in Romania.

During the period of relative prosperity in Europe from 1991 to 2008, the
structural reality of the EU was hidden under a rising tide. In 2008 the tide went
out, revealing the structural reality. It is not clear when the tide of prosperity will
come rolling back in. In the meantime, while the German economy is growing
again, Romania’s is not. Because it exists in a system where the main engine is
an exporter, and the exporter dominates the process of setting rules, it is difficult
to see how Romania can take advantage of its greatest asset — a skilled
workforce prepared to work for lower wages.

Add to this the regulatory question. Romania is a developing country. Europe’s

regulations are drawn with a focus on the highly developed countries. The laws
on employment guarantees mean that Europeans don’t hire workers, they adopt
them. That means that entrepreneurship is difficult. Being an entrepreneur, as I
well know, means making mistakes and recovering from them fast. Given the
guarantees that every worker has in Europe, an entrepreneur cannot quickly
recover from his mistakes. In Romania, the agility needed for risk-taking is not
readily available under EU rules drawn up for a mature economy.

Romania should be a country of small entrepreneurs, and it is, but there is
extensive evasion of Brussels’ — and Bucharest’s — regulations. It is a gray
market that creates legal jeopardy and therefore corruption in the sector that
Romania needs the most. Imagine if Germany had the regulations it champions
today in 1955. Could it possibly have developed into what it is in 2010? There
may be a time for these regulations (and that is debatable), but for Romania it is
not now.

I met a Romanian entrepreneur who marketed industrial products. In talking to

him, I raised the question of the various regulations governing his industry and
how he handled them. There was no clear answer or, more precisely, I didn’t
realize the answer he had given me until later. There are regulations and there
are relationships. The latter mitigate the former. In Germany this might be called
corruption. In Romania it is survival. A Romanian entrepreneur rigorously
following EU regulations would rapidly go out of business. It may be that
Romania is corrupt, but the regulatory structure of the EU imposed on a
developing economy makes evasion the only rational strategy. And yet the
entrepreneur I talked to was a champion of the European Union. He too hoped
for the time when he could be a normal European. As Rousseau said, “I have
seen these contradictions and they have not rebuffed me.”

It is difficult to for an outsider to see the specific benefits of NATO and EU

membership for Romania. But for the Romanians, membership goes beyond the

Romania’s Choice

August and September are bad months in Europe. It is when wars and crises
strike. August and September 2008 were bad months. That August, Russia
struck Georgia. In September, the financial crisis burst wide open. In the first,
Russia delivered a message to the region: This is what American guarantees are

worth. In the European handling of the financial crisis in Eastern Europe, the
Germans delivered a message on the limits of German responsibility. Both NATO
and the European Union went from being guarantors of Romanian interests to
being enormous question marks.

In my conversations with Romanians, at all levels and almost universally, I have

found the same answer. First, there is no doubt that NATO and the European
Union did not work in Romania’s favor at the moment. Second, there is no
question of rethinking Romania’s commitment to either. There are those
Romanians, particularly on the far right, who dislike the European Union in
particular, but Romania has no strategic alternative.

As for the vast majority, they cannot and will not conceive of a Romania outside
the confines of NATO and the European Union. The mere fact that neither is
working well for Romania does not mean that they do not do something
important: NATO and the European Union keep the anti-democratic demons of
the Romanian soul at bay. Being part of Europe is not simply a matter of strategic
or economic benefits. It represents a transitional point in Romanian history. With
membership in the European Union and NATO, Romania has affirmed its
modernity and its democratic institutions. These twin amulets have redeemed
Romania’s soul. Given this, I suppose, an unfavorable trade balance and the
absence of genuine security guarantees is a small price to pay. I am not
Romanian, so I can’t feel their ineffable belief in Brussels.

Romanians do acknowledge, again almost universally, the return of Russia to the

historical stage, and it worries them. Of particular concern is Moldova, a region to
the east that was historically Romanian, taken by the Soviets in a treaty with
Hitler and the rest of which was seized after World War II. Moldova became an
independent country in 1991 (a country I will be visiting next). For much of the
post-Cold War period it had a communist government that fell a few years ago.
An election will be held on Nov. 28, and it appears that the communists might
return. The feeling is that if the communists return this time, the Russians will

return with them and, in the coming years, Russian troops will be on Romania’s

Romanian officials are actively engaged in discussions with NATO officials about
the Russians, but the Germans want a more active involvement of Russia in
NATO and not tension between NATO and Russia. The Western Europeans are
not about to be drawn into Eastern European paranoia fed by nostalgic American
strategists wanting to relive the Cold War, as they think of it.

I raised two strategic alternatives with Romanian officials and the media. One
was the Intermarium — an alliance, perhaps in NATO, perhaps not — of Poland,
Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. (To readers who asked why I did not
go to Bulgaria on this trip, it was simply a matter of time. I will go there as soon
as I can.) Very interestingly, one official pointed out substantial levels of
cooperation on military planning between Hungary and Romania and discussions
between Romania and Poland. How serious this is and whether it will go beyond
the NATO context is unclear to me. Perhaps I can get a better sense in Warsaw.

But military planning is one thing; the wherewithal to execute military plans is
quite another. The Romanians are now caught in a crisis over buying fighter
planes. There are three choices: the Swedish Gripen, the Eurofighter and used
American F-16s. The problem is that the Romanians don’t have the money for
any of these aircraft, nor does it seem to me that these are the defense
measures they really need. The Americans can provide air cover in a number of
ways, and while 24 F-16s would have value, they would not solve Romania’s
most pressing military problem. From where I sit, creating an effective mobile
force to secure their eastern frontier is what is needed. The alternative I’ve heard
was buying naval vessels to block a very real Russian naval buildup in the Black
Sea. But if Romania has trouble buying 24 fighters, naval vessels are out of the

The Romanians are approaching defense planning from a NATO perspective —
one used for planning, not implementation, and one that always leads to
sophisticated systems while leaving the basics uncovered. This may seem like
an unnecessary level of detail for this essay, but the Romanians are deep in this
discussion, and questions like this are the critical details of strategies growing out
of geopolitics. It is the difference between planning papers drawn up by think
tanks and the ability to defend a nation.

The Black Sea is a critical part of Romania’s reality, and the rise of Turkey makes
the system of relationships interesting. Turkey is Romania’s fourth-largest export
target, and one of the few major trading partners that imports more from
Romania than it exports. I pointed out to Romanians that it is the great good
fortune of Turkey that it was not admitted to the European Union. Turkey’s
economy grew by an annualized rate of 12 percent in the first quarter of 2010
and has been surging for years.

Turkey is becoming a regional economic engine and, unlike Germany, France

and Italy, it offers compatibilities and synergies for Romania. In addition, Turkey
is a serious military force and, while not seeking confrontation with Russia, it is
not subservient to it. Turkey has adopted a “360 degree” strategy of engagement
with all countries. And since Turkey is a NATO member, as are Hungary,
Slovakia and Poland, there is no incompatibility with a dual strategy of the
Intermarium and the Black Sea. For now, they fit. And the irony of Romania
reaching out to the heir to the Ottomans is simply that and no more. This is the
neighborhood that Romania inhabits. These are the options it has.

What doesn’t fit for Romania is the NATO/EU system alone. Perhaps this is part
of a rational mix, but it cannot be all of it. For Romania, the problem is to move
beyond the psychological comfort of Europe to a strategic and economic
understanding that accepts that the post-Cold War world is over. More important,
it would be a move toward accepting that Romania is free, responsible for its
future and capable of managing it.

It is this last step that is the hardest for Romania and many of the former Soviet
satellites — which were also bound up with World War I and Hitler’s disaster —
to come to terms with. There is a connection between buying more expensive
German cars than you can afford, and more of them than you need, and the
novels of Herta Muller. The appointment can be permanently canceled, but the
fear of the interrogation is always with you. In this region, the fear of the past
dominates and oppresses while the confident, American-style military planning
and economic restructuring I suggested is alien and frightening.

The Romanians emerged from a world of horror, some of it of their own making.
They fear themselves perhaps more than they fear others. For them, becoming
European is both a form of therapy and something that will restrain the demons
within and without. When you live with bad memories, you live with the shadows
of reality. For the Romanians, illusory solutions to haunting memories make a
great deal of sense.

It makes sense until war comes, and in this part of the world, the coming of war
has been the one certainty since before the Romans. It is only a question of
when, with whom and what your own fate will be when it arrives. The Romanians
believe with religious fervor that these things will be left behind if they become
part of Europe. I am more skeptical. I had thought that Romania’s problem was
that it was part of Europe, a weak power surrounded by stronger ones. They
seem to believe that their solution is to be part of Europe, a weak power
surrounded by stronger ones.

I leave Romania confused. The Romanians hear things that I am deaf to. It is
even at a pitch my Hungarian part can’t hear. I leave now for another nation,
Moldova, which has been even more exposed to history, one even stranger and
more brutal than Romania’s.

Part 4: Moldova
Moldova is a country in need of explanation, two explanations in fact. First, there
is the question of what kind of country Moldova is. Second, there is the question
of why anyone should care. Oddly, I went to Moldova thinking I knew the answer
to the second question but not the first. I came away unsure of either. Let’s begin
with the second question: Why does Moldova matter?

The second article in this series, “Borderlands,” described the re-emergence of

Russian regional power following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russian national security is dependent on two countries that became
independent following the collapse. Belarus is the buffer between Russia and
Europe on the North European Plain. Ukraine is the buffer between Russia and
the Carpathian Mountains. From the Russian point of view, dominating these
countries is less important than Europe and the United States not dominating
them. The Russians have achieved this and perhaps more.

Ukraine is Russia’s southwestern anchor and its Achilles’ heel. It is difficult for
Russia to be secure without Ukraine both for economic and strategic reasons.
Russia would be hard to defend if Ukraine were under the control of a hostile
power. What Ukraine is to Russia, Moldova is to Ukraine. It is a salient that
makes Ukraine difficult to defend, and if Ukraine can’t be defended Russia can’t
be defended either. Or so my reasoning went at the beginning of my visit.

Moldova’s Strategic Position

I had strong historical arguments for this. My thinking was in line with Stalin’s. In
1939, the Soviets signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany. One part of
the agreement secretly partitioned Poland between Germany and the Soviet
Union. Another part of the treaty secretly ceded Bessarabia to the Soviets, even
though Bessarabia was part of Romania. The Soviets seized Bessarabia in 1940,
renaming it the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic and changing its boundaries
somewhat. Bessarabia can thus be thought of as Moldova’s predecessor.

There were many things the Soviets might have demanded from the Germans,
but this, along with eastern Poland, was what they asked for. The reason was

1. The eastern frontier of Bessarabia, and therefore of Romania, was less

than 50 miles from the Soviet port of Odessa, the Soviet Union’s major
outlet to the Black and Mediterranean seas.
2. Romania was anchored in the east on the Dniester River. Should the
Soviets decide to attack westward at any point, the Dniester was a
formidable defensive line.
3. By taking Bessarabia, the Soviets eliminated part of a salient from which
Kiev could be threatened.

4. The Soviets pushed their frontier west to the Prut River.
5. The Soviets could interdict the Danube from Bessarabia. Close the
Danube and European trade — in this case, German trade — would be

Stalin wanted to increase Ukraine’s security and increase Romania’s and the
Danube basin’s vulnerability. As obscure as it was to the rest of the world,
Bessarabia became a key piece on the chessboard between Hitler and Stalin,
just as the Russian and Ottoman empires had sought after it before. Places that

are of little interest to the rest of the world can be of great importance to great

As it was, the bet didn’t pay off for Stalin, as Hitler attacked the Soviets and
quickly seized all the regions conceded to them. But what Stalin lost in 1941, he
regained in 1944. He had no intention of returning Bessarabia to Romania. He
shifted some Moldovan territory to Ukraine and transferred some Ukrainian
territory east of the Dniester River to Moldova. Since it was all under Soviet
control, these were merely administrative shifts with no strategic significance at
the time.

After the Soviet collapse, this territory became the Republic of Moldova. The
portion east of the Dniester revolted with Russian support, and Moldova lost
effective control of what was called Transdniestria. Moldova remained in control
of the area between the Prut and Dniester rivers, for about 18 years a fairly
insignificant region. Indeed, from a global point of view, Moldova was just a place
on a map until 2010. The Ukrainian elections of 2010 brought what seems to be
a pro-Russian government to power, repudiating the Orange Revolution. As I
argued in “Borderlands,” this was a key step in the resurrection of Russian
strategic power. Consequently, Moldova began to shift from being a piece of land
between two rivers to being a strategic asset for both the Russians and any
Western entity that might wish to contain or threaten Ukraine and therefore

Let me emphasize the idea that it “began to shift,” not that it is now a strategic
asset. This is an unfolding process. Its importance depends on three things:

• the power of Russia;

• Russia’s power over Ukraine;
• a response from some Western entity.

These are all moving parts; none is in place. Moldova is therefore a place of
emerging importance, as the saying goes. But however slow this process, this

fairly obscure country has lost its insignificance, as it does whenever great
powers clash in this part of the world.

This is why I wanted to visit Moldova: It seemed to be evolving into strategic

terrain, and I wanted to understand it.

The Moldovan Identity

Moldova, of course, is not just a strategic chip. It is a place where people live,
caught between their Romanian heritage and their Soviet past. It is a mistake to
think of Moldova simply as part of the Romania that had been taken by the
Soviets, which once freed from Soviet domination would simply rejoin Romania.
Seventy years after the partition, Moldova has become more than a Romanian
province, far from a Russian province and something less than a nation. This is
where geopolitics and social reality begin to collide.

The Soviets brutalized Moldova. I had a conversation with a Moldovan journalist

in which he described how he and his family had been deported in 1948 to
Tomsk in Siberia. He put it almost casually; it was the common heritage of
Moldovans. Stalin was concerned that the Moldovans would want to rejoin
Romania, and although Romania was a Soviet satellite, Stalin didn’t want to take
any chances. His solution, repeated many times in many places in the Soviet
Union, was the deportation of the Romanian population, importing Russians, a
small famine and the terror designed to break the Moldovan spirit.

The difference between Eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet
Union was driven home to me in Moldova. In the Eastern European countries,
the Soviet era is regarded as a nightmare and the Russians are deeply distrusted
and feared to this day. In Moldova, there is genuine nostalgia for the Soviet
period as there is in other parts of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, in Moldova
communist rule didn’t end in 1992. The Party of Communists of the Republic of

Moldova (PCRM), heir to the Communist Party that was banned, continued to
rule Moldova until 2009. The PCRM was not ideologically communist; it had no
real ideology at all. What it offered was continued ties to Russia and a sense of
continuity to a country that preferred the familiar.

Bessarabia was a province of Romania, and Bessarabians generally spoke

Romanian. In today’s Moldova, Romanian is not the only language spoken. As in
most former Soviet republics, Russian is widely spoken, and not simply by
Russians living there. For a large part of the Moldovan population, Russian is the
preferred language. Older Moldovans were taught Russian in school and learned
to use it in everyday life. But younger Moldovans also speak Russian, and signs
are in Romanian and Russian. In addition, it was pointed out to me (I don’t speak
any Romanian) that the Romanian spoken in Moldova is not quite the same as
that spoken in Romania today. It has not evolved the same way and has an
archaic cast to it. You can easily distinguish between a Romanian and a
Moldovan speaking Romanian.

There is genuine tension about this. A member of our staff who lives in Romania
accompanied us to Moldova. She told us about going into a store that sold
chocolate. (Apparently, it was quite famous for its chocolates.) When she spoke,
her Romanian was clearly distinguishable from the Moldovan variety and
obviously from Russian. She was not served, was ignored for a while and then
shuttled between lines. As she explained it, the Moldovans feel that Romanians
look down on them, and so Moldovans resent them. Obviously, this is a single
anecdote, but others spoke of this three-way tension between Romanians,
Moldovan Romanian speakers and Russian speakers.

This split runs parallel to political fault lines. While there are those who want
union with Romania, this is far from the dominant group. The real struggle is
between those who back the communists and those who support an independent
Moldova oriented toward the European Union and NATO. In broad terms, the
communists’ strength is among the rural, poor and elderly. The pro-Western

parties are handicapped by being divided into a series of parties that vary by
personality more than ideology. This means that the government created after
demonstrators routed the communists in 2009 is a highly fragmented coalition
made more fragile by the complex interests, personalities and ambitions of each.
The communists may not get a majority, but they don’t need as many coalition
partners as do the pro-Western parties.

There will be an election Nov. 28. The country has billboards with various
candidates all around and rallies throughout the country. Western
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are there. Some are funded, we were
told, by the American National Endowment for Democracy, others supported by
NATO and so on. The Russians, too, have learned the NGO gambit from the
West by watching the various color revolutions. Russian-supported NGOs are in
the country, and as one journalist told me, they are serving wine and cheese to
young people. That appears to be having an impact.

The real issue behind the complex politics is simply this: What is Moldova? There
is consensus on what it is not: It is not going to be a province of Romania. But
Moldova was a province of Romania and a Soviet Socialist Republic. What is it
now? What does it mean to be a Moldovan? On this question I could see no
consensus. There are nations that lack a state, like the Kurds. Moldova is a state
that lacks a nation. Nation-building in Moldova is not so much about institutions
but about creating a national consensus about the nation.

As in Romania, the pro-Western faction has a clear solution to this problem:

membership in NATO and membership in the European Union. If they get this,
they feel, they will then have a secure definition of a nation — a European
country — and protection from the Russians and others who might threaten
them. Romania sees membership in these organizations as a way to overcome
its past. Moldova sees this as providing definition to their country. But where
being European is a general goal in Romania, it is hotly disputed in Moldova,

although what the communists want in practice, aside from power, is quite

And this is the core problem in Moldova. The pro-Western factions’ idea is to join
the European Union and NATO and have that stamp a definition on the country.
It does not take into account the powerful Communist Party with its Russian ties,
nor does it take into account the substantial portion of the country that identifies
with Russia rather than with the West. Some of the pro-Western parties, sensitive
to this problem, have reached out to the Russians, either with visits to Moscow or
indirectly. Committed to the Western option, they are trying to accommodate pro-
Russian sentiment. But squaring the circle is not easy, and the basic divisions
remain in place. In that sense, the country is in gridlock. Whoever wins this or
succeeding elections governs a country that is significantly divided and with very
different ideas about what the country should look like and who should govern it.

An Economy of Shadows

This is made even more difficult when you consider Moldova’s economic
condition. It is said to be one of the poorest countries in Europe, if not the
poorest. About 12 percent of its gross domestic product is provided by
remittances from emigrants working in other European countries, some illegally.
This has fallen from 19 percent, not by economic growth, but since the global
recession cut remittances. Romania has begun a program of providing
Moldovans with Romanian passports. This allows the Moldovans to travel and
work anywhere in the European Union. They were already doing this illegally.
Now the process of emigration and remittance has become formal. Some in
Moldova charge that this is an attempt by Romania to undermine Moldova by
encouraging emigration. But given the remittance situation, it is probably a

People in Moldova and in Romania have told me that that the largest export of
Moldova is women, who are lured into or willingly join (depending on who you
might ask) the Moldovan diaspora to work as prostitutes. Some say (and I can’t
verify) that Moldovan women constitute the largest number of prostitutes working
in Europe’s legal brothels. This is a discussion for which there are few valid
statistics and many opinions. Yet in talking to people, the claim does not seem
controversial. This is a sign of a desperate country.

Consider this anecdote from a Saturday night spent walking the streets of
Chisinau, the capital. The sidewalks of the main street filled with young people,
from their late teens to their mid-twenties. I was told that there were no clubs for
young people to party in, so they gather in the streets. That’s not all that odd: It
reminds me of Queens Boulevard in New York during my high school years.
What was odd was the way they clustered in groups of five to 15. At the center of
each group was a small number of girls, one to three, all dressed stunningly
compared to the boys, who were one cut above slobs. The oddity was the extent
to which the boys outnumbered girls. I could never find out if the other girls were
home with their parents or there was a shortage of young women. Regardless,
my wife assured me the girls were not wearing cheap clothes; she estimated the
boots alone ran into the hundreds of dollars.

I don’t quite know how to read this, but add to this the fact that there were bank
branches up and down the main street. When we visited a small town north of
the capital, it also had a string of bank branches lining the street. Bank branches
are expensive to build and maintain. They need depositors to keep them going,
and when you have seven competing banks in a small town that means there is
money there. Certainly, the town didn’t look poor.

So, we have a paradox. The numbers say Moldova is extremely poor, yet there
are lots of banks and well and expensively dressed young women. The young
men all seemed to share my taste in clothes, which might come from poverty or

indifference, so they don’t fit the analysis. But I am fairly confident in saying that
the official statistics of Moldova and the economic reality are not in sync.

There are three possible explanations. The first is that remittances are flooding
the country, from women or other expatriates, and that the banks are there to
service the money coming in. The second is that there is a massive shadow
economy that evades regulation, taxation and statistical analysis. The third
explanation is that the capital and a few towns are fairly affluent while the rural
areas are extraordinarily poor. (I saw some Soviet-era apartments that might
confirm that.) I suspect the answer is all three are correct, explaining the split
politics in the country.

The Republic of Moldova has a profound identity crisis, a deeply divided political
system and an economy which does not have, as they say, full transparency. It is
therefore difficult to think about it geopolitically.

Moldova and Strategy

From the Moldovan point of view, at least among the pro-Western factions,
Moldova’s strategic problems begin and end with Transdniestria. They want to
regain the east bank of the river. The region would have real benefits for
Moldova, as it would be its industrial heartland, in relative terms at least. Like
some other disputed territories in the former Soviet Union, however, it is the
dispute, more than the strategic value of the territory that is important. It is a
rallying point, or at least an attempt to find one. It also a basis for pro-Western
groups to attack pro-Russian groups since the Russians protect the breakaway

The Germans, who are getting close to the Russians, appear to be trying to
facilitate negotiations regarding Transdniestria. The Russians may accommodate
the Germans. But if they do, I doubt the outcome will deny the Russians control

of the east bank of the Dniester. From the Russian point of view, hostile forces
east of the Dniester could threaten Odessa, and they see no reason to leave the
Dniester River regardless of how benign conditions appear right now. The
Russian view, driven home by history, is that benign situations can turn
malignant with remarkable speed.

There is an oddity here, of course. I am talking about Russian troops on the

Dniester, but this in a country surrounded by Ukraine, not Russia. The Russians
are supporting the Transdniestrian republic while the Ukrainians have not. Since
1992, the Ukrainians have not made an effective demand for the Russians to
stop interfering in what is essentially a Ukrainian-Moldovan issue. This might be
because the Ukrainians don’t want other lands that had been taken from Moldova
and given to Ukraine put on the table as a bargaining chip. But I suspect the
reason is simpler: Regardless of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians
are the ones concerned about things like a defensive river position while the
Ukrainians see the matter with more detachment.

A Net Assessment

On a map, Moldova is valuable real estate. It is a region that in the hands of

NATO or any other Western power could provide leverage against Russian
power, and perhaps strengthen Ukraine’s desire to resist Russia. Putting NATO
troops close to Odessa, a Ukrainian port Russians depend on, would cause the
Russians to be cautious. The problem is that the Russians clearly understand
this and are doing what they can to create a pro-Russian state in Moldova, or at
least a state sufficiently unstable that no one can use it to threaten the Russians.

Moldova is caught between its Romanian roots and its Soviet past. It has not
developed a national identity independent of these two poles. Moldova is a
borderland-within-a-borderland. It is a place of foreign influences from all sides.
But it is a place without a clear center. On one side, there is nostalgia for the

good old days of the Soviet Union — which gives you a sense of how bad things
are now for many Moldovans. On the other side is hope that the European Union
and NATO will create and defend a nation that doesn’t exist.

If geopolitics were a theoretical game, then the logical move would be to

integrate Moldova into NATO immediately and make it a member of the
European Union. There are equally strange nations that are members of each.
But geopolitics teaches that the foundation of national strategy is the existence of
a nation. That may be obvious, but it is something that needs to be said. I came
to Moldova looking in the borderland for a nation that might be a counter to
Russian resurgence. I thought I had found the nation on the map. It turned out
that while there were people living there, they were not a nation. What appeared
promising on a map was very different in reality.

This is not to say that Moldova cannot evolve a sense of nationhood and identity.
But such things take a long time to create and rarely emerge peacefully. In the
meantime, powerful forces on all sides might make the creation of a Moldovan
nation difficult if not impossible. This may well be a case of a state that could
forge a nation if it were a member of the European Union and NATO, but the
European Union is dealing with Ireland, and NATO has no appetite to confront
Russia. This will be up to the Moldovans. It is not clear to me how much time
history will give them to reach a consensus.

It is certainly not for me to advise the Moldovans, since I don’t share their fate.
But given that I won’t be listened to anyway, I will offer this observation. Moldova
was once part of Romania. It was once part of the Soviet Union. Moldova makes
a great deal of sense as part of something. The Soviet Union is gone. Europe
has more problems than it can handle already; it is not looking for more.
Romania is still there. It is not a perfect solution, and certainly not one many
Moldovans would welcome, but it is a solution, however imperfect.

I leave now for a place that has no doubt that it is a nation but is engaged in a
debate as to what kind of nation it should be: Turkey.

Part 5: Turkey
We arrived in Istanbul during the festival of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates
the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael on God’s command and
praises the God who stayed his hand. It is a jarring holiday for me; I was taught
that it was Isaac who God saved. The distinction between Ishmael and Isaac is
the difference between Hagar and Sarah, between Abraham and the Jews and
Abraham and the Muslims. It ties Muslims, Jews and Christians together. It also
tears them apart.

Muslims celebrate Eid with the sacrifice of animals (sheep and cattle). Istanbul is
a modern commercial city, stunningly large. On this day, as we drove in from the
airport, there were vacant lots with cattle lined up for those wishing to carry out
the ritual. There were many cattle and people. The ritual sacrifice is widely
practiced, even among the less religious. I was told that Turkey had to import
cattle for the first time, bringing them in from Uruguay. Consider the juxtaposition

of ancient ritual sacrifice so widely practiced that it requires global trade to
sustain it.

The tension between and within nations and religions is too ancient for us to
remember its beginnings. It is also something that never grows old. For Turkey, it
is about a very old nation at what I think is the beginning of a new chapter. It is
therefore inevitably about the struggles within Turkey and with Turkey’s search
for a way to find both its identity and its place in the world.

Turkey’s Test

Turkey will emerge as one of the great regional powers of the next generation, or
so I think. It is clear that this process is already under way when you look at
Turkey’s rapid economic growth even in the face of the global financial crisis, and
when you look at its growing regional influence. As you’d expect, this process is
exacerbating internal political tensions as well as straining old alliances and
opening the door to new ones. It is creating anxiety inside and outside of Turkey
about what Turkey is becoming and whether it is a good thing or not. Whether it
is a good thing can be debated, I suppose, but the debate doesn’t much matter.
The transformation from an underdeveloped country emerging from the ashes of
the Ottoman Empire to a major power is happening before our eyes.

At the heart of the domestic debate and foreign discussion of Turkey’s evolution
is Islam. Turkey’s domestic evolution has resulted in the creation of a
government that differs from most previous Turkish governments by seeing itself
as speaking for Islamic traditions as well as the contemporary Turkish state. The
foreign discussion is about the degree to which Turkey has shifted away from its
traditional alliances with the United States, Europe and Israel. These two
discussions are linked.

At a time when the United States is at war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and in
confrontation with Iran, any shift in the position of a Muslim country rings alarm
bells. But this goes beyond the United States. Since World War II, many Turks
have immigrated to Europe, where they have failed to assimilate partly by choice
and partly because the European systems have not facilitated assimilation. This

failure of assimilation has created massive unease about Turkish and other
Muslims in Europe, particularly in the post-9/11 world of periodic terror warnings.
Whether reasonable or not, this is shaping Western perceptions of Turkey and
Turkish views of the West. It is one of the dynamics in the Turkish-Western

Turkey’s emergence as a significant power obviously involves redefining its

internal and regional relations to Islam. This alarms domestic secularists as well
as inhabitants of countries who feel threatened by Turks — or Muslims — living
among them and who are frightened by the specter of terrorism. Whenever a
new power emerges, it destabilizes the international system to some extent and
causes anxiety. Turkey’s emergence in the current context makes that anxiety all
the more intense. A newly powerful and self-confident Turkey perceived to be
increasingly Islamic will create tensions, and it has.

The Secular and the Religious

Turkey’s evolution is framed by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World
War I and the creation of modern Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk’s
task was to retain the core of the Ottoman Empire as an independent state. That
core was Asia Minor and the European side of the Bosporus. For Ataturk, the first
step was contraction, abandoning any attempt to hold the Ottoman regions that
surrounded Turkey. The second step was to break the hold of Ottoman culture
on Turkey itself. The last decades of the Ottoman Empire were painful to Turks,
who saw themselves decline because of the unwillingness of the Ottoman regime
to modernize at a pace that kept up with the rest of Europe. The slaughter of
World War I did more than destroy the Ottoman Empire. It shook its confidence in
itself and its traditions.

For Ataturk, Turkish national survival depended on modernization, which he

equated with the creation of a secular society as the foundation of a modern
nation-state in which Islam would become a matter of private practice, not the
center of the state or, most important, something whose symbols could have a
decisive presence in the public sphere. This would include banning articles of
clothing associated with Islamic piety from public display. Ataturk did not try to

suppress Muslim life in the private sphere, but Islam is a political religion that
seeks to regulate both private and public life.

Ataturk sought to guarantee the survival of the secular state through the military.
For Ataturk, the military represented the most modern element of Turkish society
and could serve two functions. It could drive Turkish modernization and protect
the regime against those who would try to resurrect the Ottoman state and its
Islamic character. Ataturk wanted to do something else — to move away from the
multinational nature of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk compressed Turkey to its
core and shed authority and responsibility beyond its borders. Following Ataturk’s
death, for example, Turkey managed to avoid involvement in World War II.

Ataturk came to power in a region being swept by European culture, which was
what was considered modern. This Europeanist ideology moved through the
Islamic world, creating governments that were, like Turkey’s, secular in outlook
but ruling over Muslim populations that had varying degrees of piety. In the
1970s, a counter-revolution started in the region that argued for reintegrating
Islam into the governance of Muslim countries. The most extreme part of this
wave culminated in al Qaeda. But the secularist/Europeanist vision created by
Ataturk has been in deep collision with the Islamist regimes that can be found in
places like Iran.

It was inevitable that this process would affect Turkey. In 2002, the Justice and
Development Party (AKP) came to power. This was a defining moment because
the AKP was not simply a secular Europeanist party. Its exact views are hotly
debated, with many inside and outside of Turkey claiming that its formal
moderation hides a hidden radical-Islamist agenda.

We took a walk in a neighborhood in Istanbul called Carsamba. I was told that

this was the most religious community in Istanbul. One secularist referred to it as
“Saudi Arabia.” It is a poor but vibrant community, filled with schools and shops.
Children play on the streets, and men cluster in twos and threes, talking and
arguing. Women wear burqas and headscarves. There is a large school in the
neighborhood where young men go to study the Koran and other religious

The neighborhood actually reminded me of Williamsburg, in the Brooklyn of my
youth. Williamsburg was filled with Chasidic Jews, Yeshivas, children on the
streets and men talking outside their shops. The sensibility of community and
awareness that I was an outsider revived vivid memories. At this point, I am
supposed to write that it shows how much these communities have in common.
But the fact is that the commonalities of life in poor, urban, religious
neighborhoods don’t begin to overcome the profound differences — and
importance — of the religions they adhere to.

That said, Carsamba drove home to me the problem the AKP, or any party that
planned to govern Turkey, would have to deal with. There are large parts of
Istanbul that are European in sensibility and values, and these are significant
areas. But there is also Carsamba and the villages of Anatolia, and they have a
self-confidence and assertiveness that can’t be ignored today.

There is deep concern among some secularists that the AKP intends to impose
Shariah. This is particularly intense among the professional classes. I had dinner
with a physician with deep roots in Turkey who told me that he was going to
immigrate to Europe if the AKP kept going the way it was going. Whether he
would do it when the time came I can’t tell, but he was passionate about it after a
couple of glasses of wine. This view is extreme even among secularists, many of
whom understand the AKP to have no such intentions. Sometimes it appeared to
me that the fear was deliberately overdone, in hopes of influencing a foreigner,
me, concerning the Turkish government.

But my thoughts go back to Carsamba. The secularists could ignore these

people for a long time, but that time has passed. There is no way to rule Turkey
without integrating these scholars and shopkeepers into Turkish society. Given
the forces sweeping the Muslim world, it is impossible. They represent an
increasingly important trend in the Islamic world and the option is not
suppressing them (that’s gone) but accommodating them or facing protracted
conflict, a kind of conflict that in the rest of the Islamic world is not confined to
rhetoric. Carsamba is an extreme case in Istanbul, but it poses the issue most

This is something the main opposition secularist party, the People’s Republican
Party (CHP), can’t do. It has not devised a platform that can reach out to
Carsamba and the other religious neighborhoods within the framework of
secularism. This is the AKP’s strength. It can reach out to them while retaining
the core of its Europeanism and modernism. The Turkish economy is surging. It
had an annualized growth rate of 12 percent in the first quarter of 2010. That
helps keep everyone happy. But the AKP also emphasizes that it wants to join
the European Union. Now, given how healthy the Turkish economy is, wanting to
join the European Union is odd. And the fact is that the European Union is not
going to let Turkey in anyway. But the AKP’s continued insistence that it wants to
join the European Union is a signal to the secularists: The AKP is not abandoning
the Europeanist/modernist project.

The AKP sends many such signals, but it is profoundly distrusted by the
secularists, who fear that the AKP’s apparent moderation is simply a cover for its
long-term intentions — to impose a radical-Islamist agenda on Turkey. I don’t
know the intentions of the AKP leadership, but I do know some realities about
Turkey, the first being that, while Carsamba can’t be ignored, the secularists hold
tremendous political power in their own right and have the general support of the
military. Whatever the intentions imputed to the AKP, it does not have the power
to impose a radical-Islamist agenda on Turkey unless the secularists weaken
dramatically, which they are not going to do.

The CHP cannot re-impose the rigorous secularism that existed prior to 2002.
The AKP cannot impose a radical-Islamist regime, assuming it would want to.
The result of either attempt would be a paralyzing political crisis that would tear
the country apart, without giving either side political victory. The best guard
against hidden agendas is the inability to impose them.

Moreover, on the fringes of the Islamist community are radical Islamists like al
Qaeda. It is a strategic necessity to separate the traditionally religious from the
radical Islamists. The more excluded the traditionalists are, the more they will be
attracted to the radicals. Prior to the 1970s this was not a problem. In those days,
radical Islamists were not the problem; radical socialists were. The strategies that
were used prior to 2002 would play directly into the hands of the radicals. There
are, of course, those who would say that all Islamists are radical. I don’t think

that’s true empirically. Of the billion or so Muslims, radicals are few. But you can
radicalize the rest with aggressive social policies. And that would create a
catastrophe for Turkey and the region.

The problem for Turkey is how to bridge the gap between the secularists and the
religious. That is the most effective way to shut out the radicals. The CHP seems
to me to have not devised any program to reach out to the religious. There are
some indications of attempted change that came with the change in leadership a
few months ago, but overall the CHP maintains a hostile suspicion toward
sharing power with the religious.

The AKP, on the other hand, has some sort of reconciliation as its core agenda.
The problem is that the AKP is serving up a weak brew, insufficient to satisfy the
truly religious, insufficient to satisfy the truly secular. But it does hold a majority.
In Turkey, as I have said, it is all about the AKP’s alleged hidden intentions. My
best guess is that, whatever its private thoughts and political realities are, the
AKP is composed of Turks who derive their traditions from 600 years of Ottoman
rule. That makes Turkish internal politics, well, Byzantine. Never forget that at
crucial points the Ottomans, as Muslim as they were, allied with the Catholics
against the Orthodox Christians in order to dominate the Balkans. They made
many other alliances of convenience and maintained a multinational and
multireligious empire built on a pyramid of compromises. The AKP is not the
party of the Wahhabi, and if it tried to become that, it would fall. The AKP, like
most political parties, prefers to hold office.

Turkey and the World

The question of the hidden agenda of the AKP touches its foreign policy, too. In
the United States, nerves are raw over Afghanistan and terror threats. In Europe,
Muslim immigration, much of it from Turkey, and more terror threats make for
more raw nerves. The existence of an Islamist-rooted government in Ankara has
created the sense that Turkey has “gone over,” that it has joined the radical-
Islamist camp.

This is why the flotilla incident with Israel turned out as it did. The Turks had
permitted a fleet to sail for Gaza, which was blockaded by Israel. Israeli
commandos boarded the ships and on one of them got into a fight in which nine
people were killed. The Turks became enraged and expected the rest of the
world, including the United States and Europe, to join them in condemning
Israel’s actions. I think the Turkish government was surprised when the general
response was not directed against Israel but at Turkey. The Turks failed to
understand the American and European perception that Turkey had gone over to
the radical Islamists. This perception caused the Americans and Europeans to
read the flotilla incident in a completely unexpected way, from the Turkish
government’s point of view, one that saw the decision to allow the flotilla to sail
as part of a radical-Islamist agenda. Rather than seeing the Turks as victims,
they saw the Turks as deliberately creating the incident for ideological reasons.

At the moment, it all turns on the perceptions of the AKP, both in Turkey and the
world. And these perceptions lead to very different interpretations of what Turkey
is doing.

In this sense, the ballistic missile defense (BMD) issue was extremely important.
Had the Turks refused to allow BMD to be placed in Turkey, it would have been, I
think, a breakpoint in relations with the United States in particular. BMD is a
defense against Iranian missiles. Turkey does not want a U.S. strike on Iran. It
should therefore have been enthusiastic about BMD, since Turkey could argue
that with BMD, no strike is needed. Opposing a strike and opposing BMD would
have been interpreted as Turkey simply wanting to obstruct anything that would
upset Iran, no matter how benign. The argument of those who view Turkey as
pro-Iranian would be confirmed. The decision by the Turkish government to go
forward with BMD was critical. Rejecting BMD would have cemented the view of
Turkey as being radical Islamist. But the point is that the Turks postured on the
issue and then went along. It was the AKP trying to maintain its balance.

The reality is that Turkey is now a regional power trying to find its balance. It is in
a region where Muslim governments are mixed with secular states,
predominantly Christian nations and a Jewish state. When you take the 360-
degree view that the AKP likes to talk about, it is an extraordinary and

contradictory mixture of states. Turkey is a country that maintains relations with
Iran, Israel and Egypt, a dizzying portfolio.

It is not a surprise that the Turks are not doing well at this. After an interregnum
of nearly a century, Turkey is new to being a regional power, and everyone in the
region is trying to draw Turkey into something for their own benefit. Syria wants
Turkish mediation with Israel and in Lebanon. Azerbaijan wants Turkish support
against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. Israel and Saudi Arabia want Turkish
support against Iran. Iran wants Turkey’s support against the United States.
Kosovo wants its support against Serbia. It is a rogue’s gallery of supplicants, all
wanting something from Turkey and all condemning Turkey when they don’t get
it. Not least of these is the United States, which wants Turkey to play the role it
used to play, as a subordinate American ally.

Turkey’s strategy is to be friends with everyone, its “zero conflict with neighbors”
policy, as the Turks call it. It is an explicit policy not to have enemies. The
problem is that it is impossible to be friends with all of these countries. Their
interests are incompatible, and in the end, the only likely outcome is that all will
find Turkey hostile and it will face distrust throughout the region. Turkey was
genuinely surprised when the United States, busy finally getting sanctions into
place against Iran, did not welcome Turkey’s and Brazil’s initiative with Iran. But
unlike Brazil, Turkey lives in a tough neighborhood and being friendly with
everyone is not an option.

This policy derives, I think, from a fear of appearing, like the Ottoman Empire, so
distrusted by secularists. The Ottoman Empire was both warlike and cunning. It
was the heir to the Byzantine tradition and it was worthy of it. Ataturk simplified
Turkish foreign policy radically, drawing it inward. Turkey’s new power makes
that impossible, but it is important, at least at this point in history, for Turkey not
to appear too ambitious or too clever internationally. The term neo-Ottoman
keeps coming up, but is not greeted happily by many people. Trying to be friendly
with everyone is not going to work, but for the Turks, it is a better strategy now
than being prematurely Byzantine. Contrary to others, I see Turkish foreign policy
as simple and straightforward: What they say and what they intend to do are the
same. The problem with that foreign policy is that it won’t work in the long run. I

suspect the Turkish government knows that, but it is buying time for political

It is buying time for administrative reasons as well. The United States entered
World War II without an intelligence service, with a diplomatic corps vastly
insufficient for its postwar needs and without a competent strategic-planning
system. Turkey is ahead of the United States of 1940, but it does not have the
administrative structure or the trained and experienced personnel to handle the
complexities it is encountering. The Turkish foreign minister wakes up in the
morning to Washington’s latest demand, German pronouncements on Turkish
EU membership, Israeli deals with the Greeks, Iranian probes, Russian views on
energy and so on. It is a large set of issues for a nation that until recently had a
relatively small foreign-policy footprint.

Turkey and Russia

Please recall my reasons for this journey and what brought me to Turkey. I am
trying to understand the consequences of the re-emergence of Russia, the extent
to which this will pose a geopolitical challenge and how the international system
will respond. I have already discussed the Intermarium, the countries from the
Baltic to the Black seas that have a common interest in limiting Russian power
and the geopolitical position to do so if they act as a group.

One of the questions is what the southern anchor of this line will be. The most
powerful anchor would be Turkey. Turkey is not normally considered part of the
Intermarium, although during the Cold War it was the southeastern anchor of
NATO’s line of containment. The purpose of this trip is to get some sense of how
the Turks think about Russia and where Russia fits into their strategic thinking. It
is also about how the Turks now think of themselves as they undergo a profound
shift that will affect the region.

Turkey, like many countries, is dependent on Russian energy. Turkey also has a
long history with Russia and needs to keep Russia happy. But it also wants to be
friends with everyone and it needs to find new sources of energy. This means
that Turkey has to look south, into Iraq and farther, and east, toward Azerbaijan.

When it looks south, it will find itself at odds with Iran and perhaps Saudi Arabia.
When it looks east, it will find itself at odds with Armenia and Russia.

There are no moves that Turkey can make that will not alienate some great
power, and it cannot decline to make these moves. It cannot simply depend on
Russia for its energy any more than Poland can. Because of energy policy, it
finds itself in the same position as the Intermarium, save for the fact that Turkey
is and will be much more powerful than any of these countries, and because the
region it lives in is extraordinarily more complex and difficult.

Nevertheless, while the Russians aren’t an immediate threat, they are an

existential threat to Turkey. With a rapidly growing economy, Turkey needs
energy badly and it cannot be hostage to the Russians or anyone else. As it
diversifies its energy sources it will alienate a number of countries, including
Russia. It will not want to do this, but it is the way the world works. Therefore, is
this the southern anchor of the Intermarium? I think so. Not yet and not forever,
but I suspect that in 10 years or so, the sheer pressure that Russian energy
policy will place on Turkey will create enough tensions to force Turkey into the
anchor position.

If Moldova is the proof of the limits of geopolitical analysis, Turkey is its

confirmation. There is endless talk in Turkey of intentions, hidden meanings and
conspiracies, some woven decades ago. It is not these things that matter. Islam
has replaced modernism as the dynamic force of the region, and Turkey will have
to accommodate itself to that. But modernism and secularism are woven into
Turkish society. Those two strands cannot be ignored. Turkey is the regional
power, and it will have to make decisions about friends and enemies. Those
decisions will be made based on issues like energy availability, economic
opportunities and defensive positions. Intentions are not trivial, but in the case of
Turkey neither are they decisive. It is too old a country to change and too new a
power to escape the forces around it. For all its complexity, I think Turkey is
predictable. It will go through massive internal instability and foreign tests it is not
ready for, but in the end, it will emerge as it once was: a great regional power.

As a subjective matter, I like Turkey and Turks. I suspect I will like them less as
they become a great power. They are at the charming point where the United

States was after World War I. Over time, global and great powers lose their
charm under the pressure of a demanding and dissatisfied world. They become
hard and curt. The Turks are neither today. But they are facing the kind of
difficulties that only come with success, and those can be the hardest to deal

Internally, the AKP is trying to thread the needle between two Turkish realities.
No one can choose one or the other and govern Turkey. That day has passed.
How to reconcile the two is the question. For the moment, the most difficult
question is how to get the secularists to accept that, in today’s Turkey, they are a
large minority. I suspect the desire to regain power will motivate them to try to
reach out to the religious, but for now, they have left the field to the AKP.

In terms of foreign policy, they are clearly repositioning Turkey to be part of the
Islamic world, but the Islamic world is deeply divided by many crosscurrents and
many types of regimes. The distance between Morocco and Pakistan is not
simply space. Repositioning with the Islamic world is more a question of who will
be your enemy than who will be your friend. The same goes for the rest of the

In leaving Turkey, I am struck by how many balls it has to keep in the air. The
tensions between the secularists and the religious must not be minimized. The
tensions within the religious camp are daunting. The tensions between urban and
rural are significant. The tensions between Turkey and its allies and neighbors
are substantial, even if the AKP is not eager to emphasize this. It would seem
impossible to imagine Turkey moving past these problems to great power status.
But here geopolitics tells me that it has to be this way. All nations have deep
divisions. But Turkey is a clear nation and a strong state. It has geography and it
has an economy. And it is in a region where these characteristics are in short
supply. That gives Turkey relative power as well as absolute strength.

The next 10 years will not be comfortable for Turkey. It will have problems to
solve and battles to fight, figuratively and literally. But I think the answer to the
question I came for is this: Turkey does not want to confront Russia. Nor does it
want to be dependent on Russia. These two desires can’t be reconciled without
tension with Russia. And if there is tension, there will be shared interests with the

Intermarium, quite against the intentions of the Turks. In history, intentions,
particularly good ones, are rarely decisive.

Part 6: Ukraine
The name “Ukraine” literally translates as “on the edge.” It is a country on the
edge of other countries, sometimes part of one, sometimes part of another and
more frequently divided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided between
Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, it was divided
between Russia and Austria-Hungary. And in the 20th century, save for a short
period of independence after World War I, it became part of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine has been on the edge of empires for centuries.

My father was born in Ukraine in 1912, in a town in the Carpathians now called
Uzhgorod. It was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born, and by the time he
was 10 the border had moved a few miles east, so his family moved a few miles
west. My father claimed to speak seven languages (Hungarian, Romanian,
Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Yiddish). As a child, I was deeply
impressed by his learning. It was only later that I discovered that his linguistic
skills extended only to such phrases as “What do you want for that scrawny
chicken?” and “Please don’t shoot.”

He could indeed make himself understood in such non-trivial matters in all these
languages. Consider the reason: Uzhgorod today is on the Slovakian border,
about 30 miles from Poland, 15 miles from Hungary and 50 miles from Romania.
When my father was growing up, the borders moved constantly, and knowing
these languages mattered. You were never sure what you’d be a citizen or
subject of next or who would be aiming a rifle at you.

My father lived on the edge until the Germans came in 1941 and swept
everything before them, and then until the Soviets returned in 1944 and swept
everything before them. He was one of tens of millions who lived or died on the
edge, and perhaps nowhere was there as much suffering from living on the edge
than in Ukraine. Ukraine was caught between Stalin and Hitler, between planned
famines and outright slaughter, to be relieved only by the grinding misery of post-
Stalin communism. No European country suffered as much in the 20th century as
Ukraine. From 1914 until 1945, Ukraine was as close to hell as one can reach in
this life.

Asking to be ruled

Ukraine was, oddly enough, shaped by Norsemen, who swept down and set up
trading posts, eventually ruling over some local populations. According to early
histories, the native tribes made the following invitation: “Our land is great and
rich, but there is no law in it. Come to rule and reign over us.” This is debated, as
Anne Reid, author of the excellent “Borderland: Journey through the History of
Ukraine,” points out. But it really doesn’t matter, since they came as merchants
rather than conquerors, creating a city, Kiev, at the point where the
extraordinarily wide Dnieper River narrows.

Still, few historians doubt that some offer of this type was made. I can imagine
inhabitants of what became Ukraine making such an offer in ways I can’t imagine
in other places. The flat country is made for internal conflict and dissension, and
the hunger for a foreigner to come and stabilize a rich land is not always far from
Ukrainians’ thoughts. Out of this grew the Kievan Rus, the precursor of modern
Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. There are endless arguments over whether
Ukraine created Russia or vice versa. Suffice it to say, they developed together.
That is more important than who did what to whom.

Consider the way they are said to have chosen their religion. Volodymyr, a pagan
ruler, decided that he needed a modern religion. He considered Islam and
rejected it because he wanted to drink. He considered Catholicism and rejected it
because he had lots of concubines he didn’t want to give up. He finally decided
on Orthodox Christianity, which struck him as both beautiful and flexible. As Reid
points out, there were profound consequences: “By choosing Christianity rather
than Islam, Volodymyr cast Rus’ ambitions forever in Europe rather than Asia,
and by taking Christianity from Byzantium rather than Rome he bound the future
Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians together in Orthodoxy, fatally dividing
them from their Catholic neighbors the Poles.” I suspect that while Volodymyr
liked his drink and his women, he was most concerned with finding a balance
between powers and chose Byzantium to create space for Ukraine.

Ukraine, Europe and Russia

Ukraine is on the edge again today, trying to find space. It is on the edge of
Russia and on the edge of Europe, its old position. What makes this position
unique is that Ukraine is independent and has been so for 18 years. This is the
longest period of Ukrainian independence in centuries. What is most striking
about the Ukrainians is that, while they appear to value their independence, the
internal debate seems to focus in part on what foreign entity they should be
aligned with. People in the west want to be part of the European Union. People in
the east want to be closer to the Russians. The Ukrainians want to remain
independent but not simply independent.

It makes for an asymmetric relationship. Many Ukrainians want to join the

European Union, which as a whole is ambivalent at best about Ukraine. On the
other hand, Ukraine matters as much to the Russians as it does to Ukrainians,
just as it always has. Ukraine is as important to Russian national security as
Scotland is to England or Texas is to the United States. In the hands of an
enemy, these places would pose an existential threat to all three countries.
Therefore, rumors to the contrary, neither Scotland nor Texas is going anywhere.
Nor is Ukraine, if Russia has anything to do with it. And this reality shapes the
core of Ukrainian life. In a fundamental sense, geography has imposed limits on
Ukrainian national sovereignty and therefore on the lives of Ukrainians.

From a purely strategic standpoint, Ukraine is Russia’s soft underbelly.
Dominated by Russia, Ukraine anchors Russian power in the Carpathians. These
mountains are not impossible to penetrate, but they can’t be penetrated easily. If
Ukraine is under the influence or control of a Western power, Russia’s (and
Belarus’) southern flank is wide open along an arc running from the Polish border
east almost to Volgograd then south to the Sea of Azov, a distance of more than
1,000 miles, more than 700 of which lie along Russia proper. There are few
natural barriers.

For Russia, Ukraine is a matter of fundamental national security. For a Western

power, Ukraine is of value only if that power is planning to engage and defeat
Russia, as the Germans tried to do in World War II. At the moment, given that no
one in Europe or in the United States is thinking of engaging Russia militarily,
Ukraine is not an essential asset. But from the Russian point of view it is
fundamental, regardless of what anyone is thinking of at the moment. In 1932,
Germany was a basket case; by 1941, it had conquered the European continent
and was deep into Russia. One thing the Russians have learned in a long and
painful history is to never plan based on what others are capable of doing or
thinking at the moment. And given that, the future of Ukraine is never a casual
matter for them.

It goes beyond this, of course. Ukraine controls Russia’s access to the Black Sea
and therefore to the Mediterranean. The ports of Odessa and Sevastopol provide
both military and commercial access for exports, particularly from southern
Russia. It is also a critical pipeline route for sending energy to Europe, a
commercial and a strategic requirement for Russia, since energy has become a
primary lever for influencing and controlling other countries, including Ukraine.

This is why the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 was critical in transforming
Russia’s view of the West and its relationship to Ukraine. Following the breakup
of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had a series of governments that remained aligned
with Russia. In the 2004 presidential election, the seemingly pro-Russian
candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, emerged the winner in an election that many
claimed was fraudulent. Crowds took to the streets and forced Yanukovych’s
resignation, and he was replaced by a pro-Western coalition.

The Russians charged that the peaceful rising was engineered by Western
intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA and MI6, which funneled money into
pro-Western NGOs and political parties. Whether this was an intelligence
operation or a fairly open activity, there is no question that American and
European money poured into Ukraine. And whether it came from warm-hearted
reformers or steely eyed CIA operatives didn’t matter in the least to Vladimir
Putin. He saw it as an attempt to encircle and crush the Russian Federation.

Putin spent the next six years working to reverse the outcome, operating both
openly and covertly to split the coalition and to create a pro-Russian government.
In the 2010 elections, Yanukovych returned to power, and from the Russian point
of view, the danger was averted. A lot of things went into this reversal. The
United States was absorbed in Iraq and Afghanistan and couldn’t engage Russia
in a battle for Ukraine. The Germans drew close to the Russians after the 2008
crisis. Russian oligarchs had close financial and political ties with Ukrainian
oligarchs who influenced the election. There is a large pro-Russian faction in
Ukraine that genuinely wants the country to be linked to Russia. And there was
deep disappointment in the West’s unwillingness to help Ukraine substantially.

Beyond the Orange Revolution

On the day we arrived in Kiev, two things were going on. First there were
demonstrations under way protesting government tax policy. Second,
Yanukovych was in Belgium for a summit with the European Union. Both of these
things animated the pro-Western faction in Ukraine, a faction that remains fixated
on the possibility that the Orange Revolution can be recreated and that Ukraine
must enter the European Union. These two things are linked.

The demonstrations were linked to a shift in tax law that increased taxes on
small-business owners. The main demonstration took place in a large square
well-stocked with national flags and other banners. The sound systems in place
were quite good. It was possible to hear the speeches clearly. When I pointed out
to a pro-Western journalist that it seemed to be a well-funded and organized
demonstration, I was assured that it wasn’t well-organized at all. I have not been
to other Ukrainian demonstrations but have been present at various other

demonstrations around the world, and most of those were what some people in
Texas call a “goat rodeo.” I have never seen one of those, either, but I gather
they aren’t well organized. This demonstration did not strike me as a goat rodeo.

This actually matters. There was some excitement among politically aware pro-
Westerners that this demonstration could evolve into another Orange Revolution.
Some demonstrators were camping out overnight, and there were some excited
rumors that police were blocking buses filled with demonstrators and preventing
them from getting to the demonstration. That would mean that the demonstration
would have been bigger without police interference and that the government was
worried about another rising.

It just didn’t seem that way to me. There were ample police in the side streets,
but they were relaxed and not in riot gear. I was told that the police with riot gear
were hidden in courtyards and elsewhere. I couldn’t prove otherwise. But the
demonstration struck me as too well-organized. Passionate and near-
spontaneous demonstrations are more ragged, the crowds more restless and
growing, and the police more tense. To me, as an outsider, it seemed more an
attempt by organization leaders and politicians to generate a sense of political
tension than a spontaneous event. But there was a modicum of hope among
anti-government factions that this could be the start of something big. When
pressed on the probabilities, I was told by one journalist that there was a 5
percent chance it could grow into a rising.

My perception was that it was a tempest in a teapot. My perception was not

completely correct. Yanukovych announced later in the week that the new tax
law might not go into effect. He said that it would depend on parliamentary action
that would not come for another week but he gave every indication that he would
find a way to at least postpone it if not cancel it. Clearly, he did not regard the
demonstrations as trivial. Regardless of whether he would finally bend to the
demonstrators’ wishes, he felt he needed to respond.

European Dreams

On the same day the demonstrations began, Yanukovych left for Brussels with
talks about Ukraine entering the European Union. I had an opportunity to meet
with an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before he departed for Brussels
as well. The official had also been with the ministry during the previous
administration. He was a member of the group that had been part of the
numerous programs run by the United States and Europe for turning Eastern
Europeans into proponents of the West, and he was certainly that. My meeting
with the official taught me one of two things: Either Yanukovych was not purging
people ideologically or he wanted to keep a foot in the pro-EU camp.

From where I sat, as an American, the European Union appeared at best

tarnished and at worst tottering. I had met in Istanbul with some European
financial leaders who had in past discussions dismissed my negativism on the
European Union as a lack of sophistication on my part. This time they were far
less assured than ever before and were talking about the possibilities of the euro
failing and other extreme outcomes. They had travelled quite a road in the past
few years to have arrived at this point. But what was fascinating to me was that
the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official was not only unshaken by the Irish
situation but also saw no connection between that and the EU appetite for
Ukraine becoming a member. For him, one had nothing to do with the other.

The troubles the European Union was facing did not strike pro-EU Ukrainians as
changing the basic game. There was no question in their mind that they wanted
Ukraine in the European Union, nor was there any question in their mind that the
barriers to entry were in the failure of the Ukrainians to measure up. The idea
that EU expansion had suffered a fatal blow due to the Irish or Greek crises was
genuinely inconceivable to them. The European Union was not going to undergo
any structural changes. Nothing that was happening in the European Union
impacted its attractiveness or its openness. It was all about Ukraine measuring

In many countries we have visited there has been a class difference for EU
membership. The political and economic elites are enthusiastic, the lower

classes much more restrained. In Ukraine, there is also a regional distinction.
The eastern third of the country is heavily oriented toward Russia and not to the
West. The western third is heavily oriented toward the West. The center of the
country tilts toward the west but is divided. Linguistic division also falls along
these lines, with the highest concentrations of native Ukrainian speakers living in
the west and of Russian speakers in the east. This can be seen in the election
returns in 2010 and before. Yanukovych dominated the east, Timoshenko the
west, and the contested center tilted toward Timoshenko. But the support in the
east for the Party of Regions and Yanukovych was overwhelming.

This division defines Ukrainian politics and foreign policy. Yanukovych is seen as
having been elected to repudiate the Orange Revolution. Supporters of the
Orange Revolution are vehement in their dislike of Yanukovych and believe that
he is a Russian tool. Interestingly, this wasn’t the view in Poland, where
government officials and journalists suggested that Yanukovych was playing a
more complex game and trying to balance Ukraine between Europe and the

Whatever Yanukovych intends, it is hard to see how you split the difference.
Either you join the European Union or you don’t. I suspect the view is that
Yanukovych will try to join but will be rejected. He will therefore balance between
the two groups. That is the only way he could split the difference. Certainly,
NATO membership is off the table for him. But the European Union is a

I met with a group of young Ukrainian financial analysts and traders. They
suggested that Ukraine be split into two countries, east and west. This is an idea
with some currency inside and outside Ukraine. It certainly fits in with the
Ukrainian tradition of being on the edge, of being split between Europe and
Russia. The problem is that there is no clear geographical boundary that can be
defined between the two parts, and the center of the country is itself divided.

Far more interesting than their geopolitical speculation was their fixation on
Warsaw. Sitting in Kiev, the young analysts and traders knew everything
imaginable about the IPO market, privatization and retirement system in Poland,
the various plans and amounts available from those plans for private investment.

It became clear that they were more interested in making money in Poland’s
markets than they were in the European Union, Ukrainian politics or what the
Russians are thinking. They were young and they were traders and they knew
who Gordon Gekko was, so this is not a sampling of Ukrainian life. But what was
most interesting was how little talk there was of Ukrainian oligarchs compared to
Warsaw markets. The oligarchs might have been way beyond them and
therefore irrelevant, but it was Warsaw, not the European Union or the power
structure, that got their juices flowing.

Many of these young financiers dreamed of leaving Ukraine. So did many of the
students I met at a university. There were three themes they repeated. First, they
wanted an independent Ukraine. Second, they wanted it to become part of the
European Union. Third, they wanted to leave Ukraine and live their lives
elsewhere. It struck me how little connection there was between their national
hopes and their personal hopes. They were running on two different tracks. In the
end, it boiled down to this: It takes generations to build a nation, and the early
generations toil and suffer for what comes later. That is a bitter pill to swallow
when you have the option of going elsewhere and living well for yourself now.
The tension in Ukraine, at least among the European-oriented, appears to be
between building Ukraine and building their own lives.

Sovereign in Spite of Itself

But these were members of Ukraine’s Western-oriented class, which was created
by the universities. The other part of Ukraine is in the industrial cities of the east.
These people don’t expect to leave Ukraine, but they do understand that their
industries can’t compete with Europe’s. They know the Russians will buy what
they produce, and they fear that European factories in western Ukraine would
cost them their jobs. There is nostalgia for the Soviet Union here, not because
they don’t remember the horrors of Stalin but simply because the decadence of
Leonid Brezhnev was so attractive to them compared to what came before or

Add to them the oligarchs. Not only do they permeate the Ukrainian economy
and Ukrainian society but they also link Ukraine closely with the Russians. This is

because the major Ukrainian oligarchs are tied to the Russians through complex
economic and political arrangements. They are the frame of Ukraine. When I
walked down a street with a journalist, he pointed to a beautiful but derelict
building. He said that the super-wealthy buy these buildings for little money and
hold them, since they pay no tax, retarding development. For the oligarchs, the
European Union, with its rules and transparency, is a direct challenge, whereas
their relation to Russia is part of their daily work.

The Russians are not, I think, trying to recreate the Russian empire. They want a
sphere of influence, which is a very different thing. They do not want
responsibility for Ukraine or other countries. They see the responsibility as having
sapped Russian power. What they want is a sufficient degree of control over
Ukraine to guarantee that potentially hostile forces don’t gain control, particularly
NATO or any follow-on entities. The Russians are content to allow Ukraine its
internal sovereignty, so long as Ukraine does not become a threat to Russia and
so long as gas pipelines running through Ukraine are under Russian control.

That is quite a lot to ask of a sovereign country. But Ukraine doesn’t seem to be
primarily concerned with maintaining more than the formal outlines of its
sovereignty. What it is most concerned about is the choice between Europe and
Russia. What is odd is that it is not clear that the European Union or Russia want
Ukraine. The European Union is not about to take on another weakling. It has
enough already. And Russia doesn’t want the burden of governing Ukraine. It just
doesn’t want anyone controlling Ukraine to threaten Russia. Ukrainian
sovereignty doesn’t threaten anyone, so long as the borderland remains neutral.

That is what I found most interesting. Ukraine is independent, and I think it will
stay independent. Its deepest problem is what to do with that independence, a
plan it can formulate only in terms of someone else, in this case Europe or
Russia. The great internal fight in Ukraine is not over how Ukraine will manage
itself but whether it will be aligned with Europe or Russia. Unlike the 20th
century, when the answer to the question of Ukrainian alignment caused wars to
be fought, none will be fought now. Russia has what it wants from Ukraine, and
Europe will not challenge that.

Ukraine has dreamed of sovereignty without ever truly confronting what it means.
I mentioned to the financial analysts and traders that some of my children had
served in the military. They were appalled at the idea. Why would someone
choose to go into the military? I tried to explain their reasons, which did not have
to do with wanting a good job. The gulf was too vast. They could not understand
that national sovereignty and personal service cannot be divided. But then, as I
said, most of them hoped to leave Ukraine.

Ukraine has its sovereignty. In some ways, I got the sense that it wants to give
that sovereignty away, to find someone to take away the burden. It isn’t clear, for
once, that anyone is eager to take responsibility for Ukraine. I also did not get the
sense that the Ukrainians had come to terms with what it meant to be sovereign.
To many, Moscow and Warsaw are more real than Kiev.

Part 7: Poland
To understand Poland, you must understand Frederic Chopin. First listen to his
Polonaise and then to his Revolutionary Etude. They are about hope, despair
and rage. In the Polonaise, you hear the most extraordinary distillation of a
nation’s existence. In the Revolutionary Etude, written in the wake of an uprising
in Warsaw in 1830 crushed by Russian troops, there is both rage and
resignation. In his private journal, Chopin challenged God for allowing this
national catastrophe to happen, damning the Russians and condemning the
French for not coming to Warsaw’s aid. Afterward, Chopin never returned to
Poland, but Poland never left his mind.

Poland finally became an independent nation in 1918. The prime minister it

chose to represent it at Versailles was Ignacy Paderewski, a pianist and one of
the finest interpreters of Chopin. The conference restored the territories of
Greater Poland, and Paderewski helped create the interwar Poland. Gdansk (the
German Danzig) set the stage for Poland’s greatest national disaster when
Germany and the Soviet Union allied to crush Poland, and Danzig became the
German justification for its destruction.

A History of Tragedy and Greatness

For the Poles, history is always about betrayal, frequently French. Even had
France (and the United Kingdom) planned to honor their commitment to Poland,
it would have been impossible to carry it out. Poland collapsed in less then a
week; no one can aid a country that collapses that fast. (The rest of the invaders’
operations comprised mopping up.)

Wars take time to wage, and the Poles preferred the romantic gesture to waging
war. The Poles used horse cavalry against German armor, an event of great
symbolism if not a major military feat. As an act of human greatness, there was
magnificence in their resistance. They waged war — even after defeat — as if it
were a work of art. It was also an exercise in futility. Listen carefully to Chopin:
Courage, art and futility are intimately related for Poland. The Poles expect to be
betrayed, to lose, to be beaten. Their pride was in their ability to retain their
humanity in the face of catastrophe.

I think Chopin can be understood geopolitically. Look at where Poland is. It rests
on the North European Plain, an open country whose national borders to its west
and east are not protected or even defined by any significant geographical
boundaries. To its east is Russia, by 1830 a massive empire. To the west were
first the Prussians and after 1871 the Germans. To the south until 1918 was the
Hapsburg Empire. No amount of courage or wisdom could survive forces as
massive as this.

Poland is neither the master of its fate nor the captain of its soul. It lives and
perishes by the will of others. Little can be done to stop the Germans and
Russians when they join forces or use Poland as their battlefield. The most
Poland can do is hope that powers farther away will come to its aid. They can’t.
No one can aid a country that far away unless it aids itself. Chopin knew this in
his soul and knew that the Poles would not succeed in aiding themselves. I think
Chopin took pride in the certainty of catastrophe.

There is a book by Ivan Morris titled “The Nobility of Failure.” It is about Japan,
but the title resonates with me when I think of Poland, Chopin and Paderewski.

The Poles were magnificent in defeat, something I say without irony. But it must
be remembered that Polish history was not always about the nobility of failure,
nor is this kind of nobility Poland’s certain fate. Before the Russian empire
emerged, before the Hapsburgs organized southeastern Europe and before the
rise of Prussia, Poland was one of Europe’s great powers, the Polish-Lithuanian

When the Germans are divided, the Russians weak and the Austrians worried
about the Ottomans, then Poland stops being a victim. The Poles remember this
and constantly refer to their past greatness. It is not clear that they fully
appreciate why they were once great, why the greatness was taken away from
them or that its resurrection is not unthinkable. The Poles know they once
dominated the North European Plain. They are convinced that it will never
happen again.

The Poles today want to escape their history. They want to move beyond
Chopin’s tragic sense, and they want to avoid fantastic dreams of greatness. The
former did nothing to protect their families from the Nazis and Communists. The
latter is simply irrelevant. They were powerful for a while when there was no
Germany or Russia, but they’re not now. Or so it would appear. I would argue
that this view is lacking in imagination.

Poland, Russia and Europe

The Poles, like the rest of Central Europe, look at the European Union as the
solution to their strategic problem. As an EU member, Poland’s German problem
is solved. The two nations are now to be linked together in one vast institutional
structure that eliminates the danger the two once posed to each other. The Poles
also think the Russians are not a danger because the Russians are weaker than
they appear and because, as one Foreign Ministry official put it to me, neither
Ukraine nor Belarus is simply a Russian satellite. Indeed, he thought of Ukraine
and Belarus more as buffers. As for the old Austro-Hungarian threat, that has
dissolved into a melange of weak nations, none of which can threaten Poland.

Under these circumstances, many Poles would argue that the dangers of life on
the North European Plain have been abolished. From my point of view, there are
two problems with this perception. The first, as I have said in previous essays in
this series, is that Germany is re-evaluating its role within the European Union.
This is not because the German leadership wants to do so; Germany’s financial
and political elites are deeply wedded to the idea of the European Union. But as
with many elites worldwide after 2008, Germany’s elites have lost a great deal of
room for maneuver. Public opinion is deeply suspicious of the multiple bailouts
the German government has underwritten and may have to underwrite in the
coming years. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, Germans are not
going to retire at 67 so Greeks can retire at 58.

From the point of view of Germans — and the least interesting views are
expressed by the increasingly weak elite — the European Union is turning into a
trap for German interests. For the Germans, a redefinition of the European Union
is needed. If Germany is going to be called on to underwrite EU failures, it wants
substantial control over the rest of Europe’s economic policy. A two-tiered system
is emerging in Europe, one in which patrons and clients will not have the same
degree of power.

Poland is doing extraordinarily well economically for the moment. Its economy is
growing, and it is clearly the economic leader among the former Soviet satellites.
But the period in which EU subsidies will flow into Poland is coming to an end,
and problems with Poland’s retirement system are looming. Poland’s ability to
maintain its economic standing within the European Union is going to be
challenged in years to come. Poland could then be relegated to the status of

I don’t think the Poles would mind being a well-cared-for client. The problem is
that the Germans and other core EU members have neither the resources nor
the inclination to sustain the EU periphery in the style the periphery wants to be
cared for. If Poland slips, it will have the same sort of controls put on it that are
being placed on Ireland. One Polish official made clear he didn’t see this as a
problem. When I mentioned the potential loss of Polish sovereignty, he told me
that there were different kinds of sovereignty and that the loss of budgetary
sovereignty does not necessarily undercut national sovereignty.

I told him that I thought he was not facing the magnitude of the problem. The
ability of a state to determine how it taxes and distributes money is the essence
of the sovereign state. If it loses that, it is left with the power to proclaim national
ice cream month and the like. Others, most particularly the Germans, will
oversee defense, education and everything else. If you place the budget beyond
the democratic process, sovereignty has lost its meaning.

Here the conversation always got to the essence of the matter: intention. I was
told over and over that Germany does not intend to take away sovereignty but
merely to restructure the European Union cooperatively. I completely agreed that
the Germans do not covet Polish sovereignty. I also said that intentions don’t
matter. First, who knows what is on Merkel’s mind? WikiLeaks might reveal what
she has said to an American diplomat, but that does not mean she has said what
she thinks. Second, Merkel will not be in charge in a few years, and no one
knows who comes next. Third, Merkel is not a free actor, but is constrained by
political reality. And fourth, call it what you will, but if the Germans realign the
structure of the EU, then power will be in their hands — and it is power, not the
subjective inclination as to how to use that power, that matters.

Another conversation concerned Russian power. Again, officials emphasized two

things. The first was that Russia was weak and not a threat. The second was that
Russian control over Ukraine and Belarus was much less than imagined —
neither is fixed in the Russian orbit. On this, I agreed partly. The Russians have
no desire to recreate the Russian empire or Soviet Union; they do not want
responsibility for these two countries. But they do want to limit Ukraine’s and
Belarus’ options in foreign policy. The Russians will permit all sorts of internal
evolutions. They will not permit politico-military alliances between the two and
Western nations. And they will insist on Russian army and naval forces’ having
access to Belarusian and Ukrainian soil.

I do not find the argument about Russian weakness persuasive. First, strength is
relative. Russia may be weak compared to the United States. It is not weak
compared to Europe or Russia’s near abroad. A nation does not have to be
stronger than its strategic requirements, and Russia is certainly strong enough
for those. True, Russia’s population is in decline and it is an economic wreck. But
Russia has been an economic wreck since Napoleon, if not before. Its ability to

field military power disproportionate to its economic power is historically

I raised the question of European, and particularly German, energy dependence

on Russia, and was told that Germany only imports 30 percent of its energy from
Russia. I had thought it was 45 percent, but still, I see 30 percent as a huge
dependence. Cut that percentage off and the German economy becomes
unsustainable. And that gives Russia a great deal of power. And while Russia
needs the revenues from energy, it can stand a cut in revenues a lot longer than
Germany and Europe can stand an energy cutoff.

Finally, there is the question of German and Russian cooperation. As I have

discussed before, the German dependence on Russian energy and the Russian
requirement for technology has created a synergy between the two countries,
something reflected in their constant diplomatic consultation. In addition, German
questions about the future of the European Union have taken them on a more
independent and exploratory course. For their part, the Russians have achieved
the essentials of a geopolitical recovery. Compared to 10 years ago, Putin has
taken Russia on an extraordinary recovery. Russia is now interested in splitting
Europe from the United States, and particularly from Germany. As Germany is
looking for a new foundation for its foreign policy, the Russians are looking to
partner with Europe.

The Polish leaders I spoke to all made it clear that they did not see this as a
problem. I find it hard to believe that a German-Russian understanding does not
concern the Poles. Yes, I know that neither Germany nor Russia intends Poland
harm. But an elephant doesn’t necessarily plan to harm a mouse. Intentions
aside, the mouse gets harmed.

I think the real point the Poles are making is that they have no choice. When I
pointed out the option of the Intermarium with American backing, a senior
Foreign Ministry official pointed out that under the new NATO plan the Germans
have guaranteed two divisions to defend Poland while the United States has
offered one brigade. He was extraordinarily bitter on this score. Following on the
American decision to withdraw from a commitment to construct a fixed,
permanent Ballistic Missile Defense installation in Poland and the tentative

nature of a rotational deployment of a single Patriot battery, he saw this as a
betrayal by the United States of earlier commitments. I lamely made the
argument that one American brigade is a more effective fighting force than two
contemporary German divisions, but that is debatable at best, and I deliberately
missed the point. His charge was that there was no American commitment under
the new NATO plan, or at least nothing credible.

Polish Self-Reliance and the United States

My real response to these points was something different. Poland had been
helpless for centuries, the victim of occupation and dismemberment. It had been
free and sovereign in the interwar period. It had thrown away its sovereignty by
simply depending on French and British guarantees. Those guarantees might
have been dishonest, but honest or not, they could not have been honored.
Poland collapsed too quickly.

Guaranteeing Polish national sovereignty is first and foremost a Polish national

issue. First, a nation does not give away control of fundamental national
prerogatives, like its economy, to multinational organizations, particularly ones
dominated by historical threats like Germany. Certainly, a nation doesn’t do that
based on its perception of German intentions. All nations change their intentions;
consider Germany between 1932 and 1934. Second, to take comfort from
Russia’s economic weakness is to deliberately misread history.

But most important, a nation’s sovereignty depends on its ability to defend itself.
True, Poland cannot defend itself from a treaty signed by Germany and Russia,
at least not by itself. But it can buy time. Help may not come, but without time,
help can’t possibly come. Of course, Poland can decide to accommodate itself to
the Germans and Russians, assuming that this time things will be different. It is a
comfortable assumption. It may even be true. But Poland is betting its nation on
that assumption.

My reading of the situation is that both Polish officials and the Polish public
understand that they are safe for the moment but that the future is unknown.
They also feel helpless. Poland is a bustling European country, full of joint

ventures and hedge funds. But all of the activity only covers the underlying tragic
sense of the Polish nation, that in the end, the idea of the Polish nation is not in
Polish hands. What will come will come, and the Poles will make a heroic stand if
worse comes to worst. Chopin turned this sensibility into high art. In the end,
survival is more prosaic, and ultimately harder to achieve, than the creation of
art. Or more precisely, for Poland, survival is harder than artistic works of genius,
and more rare.

Ultimately, I am an American and therefore less taken by tragic sensibilities than

by viable strategy. For Poland, that strategy comes from the recognition that not
only is it caught between Germany and Russia, it is the monkey wrench in
German-Russian entente. It can be crushed by this. But it can prevent this. To do
that, it needs three things. First, it needs a national defense strategy designed to
make it more costly to attack Poland than to find way around it. This is
expensive. But how much would the Poles have paid to avoid the Nazi and
Soviet occupation? What seems expensive can be cheap in retrospect.

Second, Poland by itself is too light. As part of an alliance stretching from Finland
to Turkey, the Intermarium, Poland would have an alliance of sufficient weight to
matter that would be free from the irrelevancies of NATO. NATO was the alliance
of the Cold War. The Cold War is over, but the alliance lives on like a poorly fed
ghost administered by a well-fed bureaucracy.

Poland would need to coordinate with Romania, regardless of, say, Portugal’s
opinion on the matter. This alliance requires Polish leadership. It will not emerge
from it. But Poland must first overcome the fantasy that the 18-year-old European
Union represents Europe’s millennial transformation into the peaceful Kingdom of
Heaven. Eighteen years isn’t much time by European standards, and Europe has
been looking unwell of late. If Germany bets wrong on the European Union, it will
survive. Will Poland? National strategy is based on the worst-case scenario, not
on hopeful understandings with transitory leaders.

Finally, the Poles must maintain their relationship with the global hegemon.
Certainly, the last years of the Bush administration and the first years of Obama’s
administration have not been pleasant for Poland. But in the end, the United
States has fought three times in the 20th century to prevent a German-Russian

entente and the domination of Europe by one power, whether that be Germany,
Russia or a combination of the two. These wars were not fought for sentiment;
the United States had no Chopin. The wars were driven by geopolitics. A
German-Russian entente would threaten the United States profoundly. That is
why it fought World War I, World War II and the Cold War.

There are things the United States cannot permit if it can stop them. The
domination of Europe by one power tops the list. At the moment, the United
States is more concerned about ending corruption in Afghanistan. This fixation
will not last. Of course, the United States runs by a different and longer clock
than Poland does. The United States has more room for maneuver. Poland also
has time now, but it must use it in preparation for the time when the Americans
regain their sense of perspective.

The European Union might right itself, and what emerges could be a
confederation of equal nations as originally planned. The Russians might go
quietly into that good night. Whatever my doubts, it might happen. But the
problem the Poles have is what they will do if the best case doesn’t emerge. I
would argue that there is no nobility in a failure that could be avoided. I would
also argue that if you listen carefully to the Polonaise, it is an invitation not only to
survival, but to greatness.

The Polish margin of error is extraordinarily thin. What I found in Poland was not
an indifference to that margin, but a sense of helplessness coupled with intense
activity to do well while living well is impossible. But it is the sense of helpless
fatalism that frightens me as an American. We depend on Poland in ways that
my countrymen don’t see yet. The longer we wait, the greater the chance of
tragedy. The Germans and Russians are not monsters at the moment, nor do
they want to be. But as Chopin makes clear, what we want to be and what we
are are two different things, a subject to be considered in my concluding essay.

Part 8: Returning Home

I have come home, a word that is ambiguous for me, and more so after this trip
to Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland. The experience of being
back in Texas frames my memories of the journey. The architecture of the cities I
visited both impressed and oppressed me. Whether Austro-Hungarian mass or
Stalinist modernism, the sheer size of the buildings was overwhelming. These
are lands of apartments, not of private homes on their own plots of land. In
Texas, even in the cities, you have access to the sky. That gives me a sense of
freedom and casualness that Central Europe denies me. For a man born in
Budapest, with a mother from Bratislava and a father from Uzhgorod, I can’t deny
I am Central European. But I prefer my chosen home in Austin simply because
nothing is ever casual for me in Central Europe. In Texas, everything is casual,
even when it’s about serious things. There is an ease in the intensity of Texas.

On my return, some friends arranged a small dinner with some accomplished

and distinguished people to talk about my trip. I was struck by the casualness of
the conversation. It was a serious discussion, even passionate at times, but it
was never guarded. There was no sense that a conversation carried with it risk. I
had not met some of the guests before. It didn’t matter. In the region I was born
in, I feel that I have to measure every word with care. There are so many bad
memories that each word has to be measured as if it were gold. The simplest
way to put it, I suppose, is that there are fewer risks in Texas than in Central
Europe. One of the benefits of genuine power is speaking your mind, with good
humor. Those on the edge of power proceed with more caution. Perhaps more
than others, I feel this tension. Real Texans may laugh at this assertion, but at
the end of the day, I’m far more Texan than anything else.

Or perhaps I speak too quickly. We were in the Kiev airport on the way to
Warsaw. As I was passing through security, I was stopped by the question,
“Friedman? Warsaw?” I admitted that and suddenly was under guard. “You have
guns in your luggage.” For me, that statement constituted a near-death
experience. I looked at my wife, wondering what she had done. She said
casually, “Those aren’t guns. They are swords and daggers and were to be
surprises for my husband.” Indeed they were. While I stood in mortal terror, she

cheerily chatted up the guards, who really couldn’t make out what she was
saying but were charmed nonetheless by her complete absence of fear. In my
case, the fear came in layers, with each decade like another layer in an
archaeological dig. For her, memory is a much simpler thing.

The region I visited is all about memories — never forgetting, never forgiving and
pretending it doesn’t matter any more. Therefore, the region is in a peculiar
place. On the one hand, every past grievance continues to live. On the other
hand, a marvelous machine, the European Union, is hard at work, making the
past irrelevant and the future bright. In a region not noted for its optimism,
redemption is here and it comes from Brussels.

European Dreams

Here is the oddity. The Cold War ended about 20 years ago. The Maastricht
Treaty was implemented about 17 years ago. By European — or any —
standards, both the post-Cold War world and the European Union in its
contemporary form are extraordinarily new inventions. People who still debate
the ethnic makeup of Transylvania in 1100 are utterly convinced that the
European Union represents a permanent and stable foundation for their future.
The European Union will, so they say, create prosperity, instill democracy and
produce a stable system of laws that will end corruption, guarantee human rights
and eliminate the Russian threat.

It is almost impossible to have a rational discussion about the European Union.

The paradox between memories going back millennia and tremendous
confidence in an institution less than 20 years old could have been the single
most startling thing I found. People whose historical sensibility ought to tell them
that nothing this new can be counted on are sincerely convinced that the
European Union works and will continue to work.

Another oddity was that my visit coincided with the Irish crisis. At the heart of the
crisis is Germany’s recognition that the way the European Union is structured is
unsustainable. The idea that countries that get help from the European Union
might have a different voting status than those that give help profoundly

reshapes the union from a collection of equal states to various classes of states,
with Germany inevitably in the dominant position.

I noted that countries already in the European Union, like Romania and Poland,
did not find this a troubling evolution. Poland might have a rational reason for this
view, since it is doing fairly well at the moment, but Romania has no reason to be
confident. For the Romanians, it is as if it doesn’t matter what their status is in the
European Union so long as they are in the union. They see it as a benevolent
entity in which the interests of some countries will put others at a disadvantage.

Even more interesting are the many Moldovans and Ukrainians who still think
they are going to get into the European Union and focus on where they are in the
accession process. My view is that they are exactly nowhere, because the Greek
and Irish crises, plus whatever comes next, will change and probably limit who
will be permitted to become a member. It is impossible for me to imagine
circumstances under which either of these countries becomes a member. I can
more easily imagine expulsions and resignations from both the eurozone and the
European Union than I can imagine continued expansion.

In this region, in spite of the Irish crisis, almost no one drew a connection
between the ongoing financial crises, doubts about the future of the European
Union, questions about whether EU membership is desirable, questions about
whether the rules are going to change in some unbearable way, or questions
about whether the rest of Europe will want to be associated with them regardless
of what they do. The EU crisis simply has not affected the perception.

I think there are two reasons for this. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the
rise of the contemporary European Union coincided. For most of these countries,
liberation from the Warsaw Pact coincided with the rise of the union. It and NATO
were tickets out of the hell of Soviet domination. These countries have no vision
of what they will be if the European Union changes. Starting a discussion of this
would create a fundamental political crisis based on the question of national
identity. No one wants to have that conversation. Therefore, it is better to pretend
that what we see in the European Union are passing clouds rather than an
existential crisis. Far better to postpone the conversation on what Romania or
Poland is if the union becomes something very different than to have the

conversation now. Therefore, it is declared, ex cathedra, that the European
Union is not facing redefinition.

The second reason has to do with Germany. All of these countries lived through
nightmares in World War II. For all of them, allied with or enemies of Germany at
the time, Hitler led to national catastrophe. Germany has re-emerged as the
dominant European power and EU center. If the memories rule, these countries
should be panicking. They do not want to panic. Therefore, they have created for
themselves a picture of a Germany whose very soul has been transformed since
1945, a Germany that has no predatory interests, poses no threats and will solve
all EU problems.

There is a Germany between monster and saint that they don’t want to deal with.
Germany is a democratic country, and the German public is not enamored with
the idea of being Europe’s cash machine. The German elite have things under
control for now, but if things get worse, Germany has elections like any other
country. Germany does not have to be a monster in order to be unwilling to
underwrite Europe — certainly not without major political and economic
concessions. The tension between the German elite and the German public is
substantial, and if the German elite are broken in the political process of a
democratic country, the European Union can change. Europe is democratic, and
it is not clear that the European public has an unshakeable commitment to the
European Union.

The Eastern Europeans are confident that this won’t happen in Germany. The
only exception, of course, is Turkey, which is officially eager for membership in
the European Union and quite prepared to go forward without it. Turkey was the
wild card on this trip, the country that didn’t fit. It is therefore not surprising that
Turks should have a unique view of the European Union. They are doing well
economically, and while the union might have a political and cultural attraction to
many Turks, it is not in any way the existential foundation of the Turkish nation.
To the contrary, like Germany, Turkey is at the center of its own emerging region.
This makes it difficult to think of Turkey as part of this journey, with one
exception. If my idea of the Intermarium is to have an anchor, that anchor would
have to be Turkey. I think Turkey needs a relationship with Europe, and the
concept I have been putting forward is an alternative to the European Union.

Polish and Romanian political leaders refer to their close relationships with
German leaders. They don’t want to think about a wholesale cleansing of the
German leadership. They may be right. It may not happen. But it is not
something that can be excluded or even seen as unlikely. There is a combination
of unwillingness to think of the consequences of this crisis and a sense of
helplessness. Memories reverse here. Every house is filled with memories.
These memories have been declared abolished by official decree. All is well.

The Question of Russia

Then there is Russia. Here there are fewer illusions, but then less time has
passed. Everyone knows the Russians have returned to history. Far more than
the Americans, they know that Putin is a Russian leader, in the full meaning of
that term. The Ukrainians and Moldovans are divided; some would welcome the
Russians, some would want to resist. The Turks, having never been occupied by
the Russians but having fought many duels with them, depend on them for
energy, feel uncomfortable and look for alternatives. The Romanians hope for the
best with occasional combative outbursts. But the Poles have the cleverest
response, actually dueling with the Russians in Belarus and Ukraine while
simultaneously maintaining good relations with Moscow. I am not saying that
they are effective, just that they are not passive.

But they also comfort themselves about Russia as they do about Germany. The
Russian economy is weak. This is true, but it was weak when the Russians beat
Napoleon and weak when they seized Central Europe. Russian military and
intelligence capabilities have frequently outstripped the country’s economic
power. The reason is simple: Given its security apparatus, Russia can suppress
public discontent more than other countries can. Therefore it can compel the
public to exist with lower standards of living without resistance and divert
resources to the military. With Russia, you cannot correlate economic power and
military power. Everyone has written Russia off because of its demographic
problems. Russia is too complex a country to reduce its future to that. Russia
tends to surprise you when you least expect it.

Of course, this is something that former members of the Warsaw Pact
understand. There is genuine concern about what Russia will do in Poland and
west of the Carpathians. Here, many look to NATO. Again, to me, NATO is
moribund. It has insufficient military force, it has a decision-making structure that
doesn’t allow for rapid decisions, and it doesn’t have a basing system. In
addition, it has the Germans inviting the Russians into a closer relationship with
NATO that everyone applauds but the Americans and Eastern Europeans. To
me, NATO is no longer a defensive alliance; it is a gesture toward having a
defensive alliance.

NATO is designed to come to the aid of Poland or the Baltics in the event of the
unexpected and inconceivable, which would be Russia taking advantage of
NATO weakness to create a new reality. For NATO to have any chance of
working, it not only has to reach a unanimous agreement but it must also
mobilize and move a multinational force while the Balts and Poles hold out. As in
1939, the issue is that they must remain effective fighting forces with the ability to
resist and have a military capability of this generation and not the last. If the
Russians are not going to attack, then there is no point in having NATO. Let it die
and let the diplomats and bureaucrats go on to other careers. If there is a threat,
it comes from Russia, so integrating Russia into NATO would make no sense,
nor does the current NATO force structure.

A decision has to be made but it won’t be. It is too comforting to think of NATO as
an effective military force than to do the work needed to make it one. And when
the bill is presented, it is easier to dismiss the Russian threat. Yet none of these
countries will take the logical leap and simply state that NATO has no function.
That’s because they know better. But knowing better is not the same as going to
the effort.

The problem is Germany. It is moving closer to the Russians and does not want
a NATO focused on the Russians. It wants no part of a new Cold War. And no
one in the countries I visited had any desire to challenge the Germans. And so
the question of Russia is out there, but no one wants to state it too boldly.

The Invisible Americans

There is one country I haven’t mentioned in all of this: the United States. I’ve
remained silent on this because virtually everyone I talked to on my trip was
silent about the United States. It is simply not a factor to these countries, except
Turkey. I found it striking that Eastern Europe is not making calculations based
on what the United States will or won’t do. Perhaps the disappearance of the
United States from the European equation was the most startling thing on this
trip, one I didn’t realize until I returned.

The European Union dominates all minds. NATO is there as well, a distant
second. The Russians are taken into account. But the United States has stopped
being a factor in European affairs. It does not present an alternative, and those
countries that looked at it to do so, like Poland, have been bitterly disappointed in
what they have seen as American promises and a failure to deliver. For other
countries, like Romania, Israel offers a more interesting relationship than the
United States.

The decline in American influence and power in Europe is not due to the lack of
American power. It is due primarily to America’s absorption in the wars in the
Islamic world. To the extent the Americans interact with Europe it is all about
requesting troops for Afghanistan and demanding economic policies that the
Germans block.

The United States has fought two bloody and one cold and dangerous war in
Europe in the past century. Each war was about the relationship among France,
Germany and Russia, and the desire of the United States not to see any one of
them or a coalition dominate the continent. The reason was the fear that Russian
resources and Franco-German technology (particularly German) would ultimately
threaten American national security. The United States intervened in World War
I, invaded Northern Europe in 1944 and stood guard in Germany for 45 years to
prevent this. This was the fixed strategy of the United States.

It is not clear what Washington’s strategy is toward Europe at this point. I do not
believe the United States has a strategy. If it did, I would argue that the strategy
should consist of two parts: first, trying to prevent a Russo-German entente and,

second, creating a line running from Finland to Turkey to limit and shape both
countries. This is the Intermarium strategy I wrote about earlier in this series.

This strategy is not, in my mind, impossible because the countries involved are
uninterested. It is impossible because Washington seems to believe that the fall
of the Soviet regime changed America’s fundamental strategic interest.
Washington is living an illusion. It is the belief that the hundred-year war in
Europe has been replaced by a hundred-year war in the Islamic world. It may
have been supplemented but it has not been replaced.

In talking to people in Washington and Europe, I am made to feel anachronistic,

raising issues that no longer exist. I will argue that these people are out of touch
with reality. The dynamics of the last hundred years in Europe have always
changed but have always returned to the same fundamental questions, just in
different ways. The strategy of the Cold War cost far fewer lives than the
strategies of World War I and World War II. By intervening early, war was
avoided in the Cold War. It avoided a slaughter at a fraction of the cost. My
countercharge to being anachronistic is that those celebrating the European
Union and NATO are willfully ignoring the fundamental defects of each.

I suspect the Intermarium will come, at a time and in a way that will combine all
the risks with a much higher human price. Perhaps I am wrong. I have been
before. But this I am certain of: The United States is a global power, and Europe
remains a critical area of interest. I have never lived in a period when the United
States was less visible, less well-regarded and less trusted than at the current
moment. Democrats will blame Bush. Republicans will blame Obama. Both are
responsible, but the ultimate responsibility lies with us.

Just as the Eastern Europeans are having an identity crisis, so too are the
Americans. The Eastern Europeans and Turks are trying to define their place in
the world after the end of the Cold War. So are the Americans. America has not
disappeared because it lacks power. A country that makes up one quarter of the
world’s economic activity and controls the seas is hardly weak, although many
would proclaim the American decline. The United States simply hasn’t figured out
how to handle the enormous power it has. With each succeeding president, it
seems to get more confused.

Americans take the Romanian position, hoping for the best and rationalizing
away their lack of exertion. I am reminded, on Dec. 7, of the price we paid for a
similar indifference in 1941. At that time, the Great Depression was our excuse
for inaction. Today it is the Great Recession. In the end, we had the Depression
and war.

One thing that you learn in Eastern Europe is that you don’t get to choose how
you live. Others frequently choose for you. That is because Eastern European
countries have been weak and divided. Now it is because they are trying to unite
with powers in the European Union that are greater than they are. The United
States, in a very different way, faces the same problem, not from weakness but
from strength. Strength limits options just as weakness does.

I have come from there and am now here, a journey I have completed many
times and one that always brings the singularly human pleasure of being home
again. Much has changed in Eastern Europe, but, oddly, very little has. These
are countries for which others define the rules. I am convinced that it doesn’t
have to be this way, but they are not. For them, it is the perpetual search for the
other who will make rules for them. At home, I live in a country and place where
resisting the rules, particularly those imposed by others, is a national obsession,
but then American history has been about this sort of resistance.

I am convinced that the fate of the region I was born in and the country I grew up
in are intimately linked. Neither my government nor theirs seems aware of this
fact. I don’t think either will understand this until history’s crank turns once more,
and the post-Cold War world is replaced by the next phase of history, one that
will be both bleaker and more dangerous than the prosperous interregnum of the
last 18 years.