by Mary Harrington
Monday, 14
February 2022
Response
07:00

Anne Applebaum swaps foreign policy for fan-fiction

The Atlantic columnist's advice to Liz Truss bordered on the surreal
by Mary Harrington
Credit: Getty

Anglo-American diplomacy in Ukraine continued its path toward full-blown surrealism with a contribution from one of America’s most long-standing apostles of providential liberalism, Anne Applebaum. Responding to the recent press conference conducted by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Applebaum penned an impassioned diatribe in The Atlantic condemning Truss’ ‘utter failure to make use’ of that press conference.

Applebaum’s concern wasn’t even with Truss’ embarrassing inability to distinguish Russian from Ukrainian territories. It was with her failure to recognise what an irredeemable baddie Russia is, and to wave a big enough stick to get the baddie back into his box.

The Atlantic columnist has long been critical of Russia’s self-dealing oligarchies and authoritarianism. This malign cartoon villain, Applebaum now suggests, has been allowed to rampage long enough. In a remarkable passage, she wrote what reads like (as the Atlantic Council’s Emma Ashford points out) a Liz Truss fan fiction on how British diplomacy should really go.

In Applebaum’s fanfic, Truss announces that Britain has had enough of Russia ignoring international rules and values. So along with taking punitive action by cutting off Russian gas supplies, they’ll be sending troops to defend Ukraine ‘for a decade if need be’. And, should that not make the Putin of Applebaum’s imagination sit up, a threat to bring about regime change in Russia will see Britain ‘get to work on regime change in Russia’.

Really? Few would dispute Putin’s strongman style of leadership. And there’s no shortage of detailed investigative writing on the Russian revolving door between business, politics and violence. But, one might ask, what of it?

Perhaps Applebaum is just (in a narrow sense) very conservative. After all, it’s not so long since everyone was forecasting a world of international interdependence, where global trade would eliminate all international conflict and somehow bring about a single global happy family of democratic consumer capitalists. No wonder those who revelled in that vision are acutely offended by states who stubbornly refuse to comply with divinely ordained progress

As it turned out we didn’t get the happy universal democracy. But we did we get the consumer capitalism, and we now have interconnectedness in spades: a world built on flows of information, money and resources across borders.

And that can be a vulnerability, too. As Edward Luttwak has pointed out, even withdrawing ambassadors and warning of imminent invasion has hit the Ukrainian economy, while no offsetting aid has hitherto been forthcoming from the West. Leaving aside the militiawomen of German media propaganda, who can say how that will be received among ordinary Ukrainians?

Meanwhile, as Yale energy expert Gregory Brew points out, Putin timed his military build-up on the Ukraine border with an already tight international energy market. Russia is the world’s leading gas exporter, and with supplies already scarce Putin holds a strong hand in any serious international face-off; given existing unrest at a projected doubling of UK domestic energy bills, imagine the political fallout of those bills quadrupling, then quadrupling again.

Applebaum appears to live in a world in which ordinary European households are happy to see their already shrinking disposable income wiped out by rocketing energy bills, in the name of high international ideals. I’m not convinced that this is a majority view.

Global trade was meant to be a vector for spreading Western values; it turns out it can also be wielded by others, to curb their reach. And there are two possible responses to that discovery. The first is to adjust one’s high ideals to the actual balance of power — which is what Western diplomats are, in practice, mostly doing. The second is to write fanfic casting (of all people!) Liz Truss as an Aragorn-like saviour of Western democratic idealism no matter what the price.

Fortunately for all of us, such heroic flights of fancy are (at least for now) a luxury mostly indulged by those commentators who still haven’t yet noticed that the End of History is over.

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Graham Stull
Graham Stull
3 months ago

I am not British, and therefore have no business telling Minister Truss what she *should* do, no more than Anne Appelbaum.
But if I were in her shoes, I would take one look at Germany’s shaky commitment to standing up to Putin and I would be very careful about engaging in too much senseless flag waving over what is, in any event, Russia’s backyard. The truth is, the day Chancellor Schroeder took that manila envelope full of dirty rubles, was the day Europe gave up on its ambitions to control the Eastern neighbourhood.
A smart British government would recognise this, and slowly work toward its own goals of energy independence – next generation nuclear, LNG, what fracking can be done and sure, why not more renewables if it can be made cost effective. Hope the senile fool in the White House is voted out soon and strengthen the transatlantic relationship with President DeSantis – who would be only too willing to do so.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Spot on Graham!
I am British and I think we should do that too.
As for the transatlantic relationship – I would like to see AUKUS (with invitations extended to the Canadians and Kiwis) develop into a full mutual-defence pact.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

That sounds sensible to me.

James Watson
James Watson
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Please leave us Canadians out. We have nothing of substance to offer and shouldn’t be able to have another forum for our cringeworthy virtue signalling. I’m guessing much the same holds true for NZ

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago
Reply to  James Watson

Surely that will change once Trudeau and Ardern leave office. The Canadians haven’t changed that much have they James?

Last edited 3 months ago by Matt M
Sean Penley
Sean Penley
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

The Canadian military is small. But then again, in my dealings with them, I was very impressed. Even if their ability to contribute is limited, every little bit helps for those who really want a free world. And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean war with Russia. I honestly don’t know how we accomplish that given the geography of the situation and the fact that Turkey is no longer a reliable ally (Germany never was, not even in the Cold War, and let’s stop pretending otherwise).
But despite what some pundits say, in situations like this there are other options besides
1. Declare Putin correct and just, or
2. WAR!
I mean, it seems to me a lot of folks in the UK aren’t really happy about the NI protocol from Brexit. Are they breaking up into camps to decide whether to praise it after all since they can’t change it or declare war on the EU? And if not, why does the Ukraine situation have to be one or the other? Well, okay, Putin might declare one on his own. But that doesn’t mean the West has to decide to either fight him militarily in Ukraine or else be his cheerleader.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago
Reply to  Sean Penley

Wise words Sean! For pundits it is always black or white. I hope those at the cutting edge are a bit more nuanced.
Glad the Canadian military is still impressive. I believe that we need a full-blown Anglo-American mutual defence pact building on Five Eyes, AUKUS etc. Augmenting NATO, the UN and so on obviously. But when the chips are down, I’d rather rely on the Yanks, Aussies, Kiwis and Canucks than anyone else.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
3 months ago
Reply to  James Watson

I’m reminded of a wise saying attributed to an 18 wheeler from Ottawa:
“HONK! HONK!”
That, my friend, is something of great substance.

Peter Rigg
Peter Rigg
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I don’t think an illiberal,autocratic dictatorship like Canada should be included….at least until they’ve had a few years of moderate government post Trudeau.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

The irony is Schröder joined Gazprom’s board of directors a week ago. He is, along with his soulmate Berlusconi, one of the great shysters of modern European politics.
I notice that Germany is not the only country in the continent whose position is quite uncertain. Spain’s coalition government has Podemos in power whose connection to Russia flow through their Venezuelan backers.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
3 months ago

An aspect of internationalism that Applebaum seems to have overlooked.

Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Problem with ms Applebaum is that her view of world politics became more and more irrational since her husband Radek Sikorski was outplayed by Donald Tusk in internal party politics and then became irrelevant when PIS won elections in Poland.
She just can not accept that globalisation policies and woke nonsense do not appeal to many voters in Europe.
Still, her books about East European history are worth reading.
Your points about Europe energy dependency on Russia are all valid.
However, they can not be addressed quickly or not at all unless woke green idiocy is swept aside.
What is the chance of that?

Pawel Kalinski
Pawel Kalinski
3 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Frankly, referring to an independent country of 40+ million as Russia’s backyard is a bit offensive.
Ukraine is free country no less that Russia and Ukrrainians have right to self determination as free people.

R Wright
R Wright
3 months ago

Sure, we’ll defend Ukraine. Let’s just rustle up the half a million Raj troops from east of Suez, empty the Aden and Mombasa garrisons and deploy them from Malta. Oh wait, I suppose we can’t, because the U.S ended our great power status and castrated us 70 years ago. Never mind.

Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

What planet are you on?
USA ended your great power status etc?
USA saved Europe in two world wars.
You would be speaking German or Russian now if it was not for USA.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Saved Europe ?

Yes, though mainly because first the Kaiser, then Adolf, gave you little choice.

On both occasions, you saved Europe because it was in your interests to do so.

All credit to your services personnel who died in the World Wars.

No credit to the USA as such.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
3 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

I disagree, why should the US care enough to spend huge money, effort and loss of life to save Europe? Churchill desperately wanted the US to be involved in WWII. Because of Pearl Harbour the American population was won over to join the war effort on both fronts. Before most Americans were very reluctant to get involved in a European war again. Without the US’ resources and man power, the war might have continued much longer and with a very different outcome. Yes, Russia threw all her man power into the war in the East, but their equipment was relative poor. Russian soldiers were screwed into their tanks with no escape and Communist Party members made sure that behind the lines Russian soldiers stayed “focused”, therefore the huge loss of Russian life. But I rather doubt that just the Russian effort would have won WWII.

Last edited 3 months ago by Stephanie Surface
Mark Burbidge
Mark Burbidge
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Why is it that Americans think USA saved Europe. What saved Europe was Hitler’s decision to attack Russia. It was having Russia as an ally that won WW2.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

The USA joined us in a boxing fight after the U.K. and the Russians had pummelled the Germans and Japanese into a weakened state over several years, using, admittedly, US funded arms which the USA generously made us pay for during the following 50 (yes 50) years. And as the USA stood by the sidelines for 2 years, the Nazis built their death machine.
No, the USA didn’t win the world wars. They exploited them for making money until they thought they were going to lose important markets for their goods.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Stewart
Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Of course they stood by the sidelines, because most of the US population was tired of war and it was very unpopular at the time to join.

Last edited 3 months ago by Stephanie Surface
Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago

Seems to me that NATO is finished.
What happens if Putin invades any of the post-1997 Eastern European members? Is the US really going to go to war with Russia to push them back across the border(I don’t mean just issuing a few sanctions or arming the Estonians)?
Likewise would the American public wish to defend a country like Germany that steadfastly refuses to increase its defence spending to the NATO minimum while implementing Nordstream II?
Dangerous times!

Last edited 3 months ago by Matt M
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Your view is contrary to all expert commentators that I’ve read – this situation has invigorated NATO and highlighted the weakness of the EU. NATO may even expand into Sweden and Finland, and the eastern EU countries are very animated about NATO now they’ve seen how Germany and France are prepared to do a ‘Chamberlain’ on them.
Reading the US press and comments, their politicians and people seem to be rather keen to get at Putin. (Probably because they’re frustrated that they can’t touch China.)
Are you a Macron man or Putin pal?

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Stewart
Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I am neither of those things. A re-invigorated Nato would be a good thing. I am sceptical about whether that is really happening. Hope you are right.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I’m not totally sure, but I found the fact that both Trump and, surprisingly, Obama moved rotational units into Poland and even the Baltics for exercises an encouraging sign. I also think that’s why Putin calmed down his showmanship for a few years. Getting NATO ground units in Estonia was not his goal when he started his saber-rattling in the middle of last decade. But I think he has smelled weakness again and thinks this is a good time to pick back up.
And some would argue that single NATO brigade in Estonia could be easily overrun in the case of a Russian invasion. Certainly true, but that is not really the point. It took away his maneuverability, it denied him the opportunity to do what he had done in Ukraine previously, which was single out an opponent. If, say, taking Estonia means wiping out a NATO brigade, it means going in there is now a huge commitment on his part, because it would no longer be just starting a war with Estonia. Which is the most likely reason he stopped wasting his time with challenging their airspace right around that time–no point in bluffing if you know you’ve been called. You either commit or you fold. But of course, times have changed and leaders have changed and no telling what he’s thinking as he’s getting older and facing the dictator’s dilemma: what is my retirement plan?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Only joking! I think Putin has screwed up big time here, uniting the opposition, making Russia look like a big bad monster to the world, undermining investment in his country.
For me the biggest risk in the West is who will replace Putin when he finally goes? Could Russia go the way of Yugoslavia, with local generals becoming warlords in possession of nukes?

Tony Loorparg
Tony Loorparg
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

And what may I ask is wrong with arming the Estonians? 82 Years ago they were ignored along with Latvia ,Lithuania et al and look where that ended up -Stalin and Hitler.Now we have Putin ,Xi and wannabe mini tyrants all over the place.
Long live Anne A

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 months ago
Reply to  Tony Loorparg

You seem to think that we should have been arming Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania 82 years ago, but a more useful alternative would have been to stop disarming ourselves.
Some of our weapons were already obsolete (tanks and aircraft).

Last edited 3 months ago by Colin Elliott
David McDowell
David McDowell
3 months ago

Very sensible commentary for once. Bring back Trump.

James Joyce
James Joyce
3 months ago
Reply to  David McDowell

LET’S GO BRANDON!

George Glashan
George Glashan
3 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

HONK HONK!

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

George – I see you’ve found the 24V button. James – HONK!! HONK!!

Dana Jumper
Dana Jumper
3 months ago

“…such heroic flights of fancy are (at least for now) a luxury mostly indulged by those commentators who still haven’t yet noticed that the End of History is over.”
Oooh, you nailed that! Mary is the gem of UnHerd!
So many people claiming they know Putin’s motivations, his strategy and how he’ll respond. It seems to me that he’s in a pretty strong position, and the rest of the world is blustering and muttering marble-mouthed protestations.
Well see. I have no predictions other than we’ll continue to see the nonsense we’re already seeing, from the usual suspect commentators.

James Joyce
James Joyce
3 months ago

I’m a Yank and I’m tired of endless wars, being the world’s policeman. I’m out of handcuffs.
I therefore have no choice but to applaud Anne Applebaum’s cum Liz Truss decision to send British troops to Ukraine to defend it for at least 10 years. I’ll go on holiday in Spain, while the paras occupy Ukraine. Brilliant!
Biden’s “we’re going to put really, really, really bad sanctions on Russia” (translation: “We wish to create an even larger criminal class than currently exists,” so expect more Russian mansions in London).
The UK can draw on its experience occupying Northern Ireland, (that went well, didn’t it?), and of course, Ukraine is a vital interest to the UK because…..
PS–this whole thing is a joke, right? Is Mary stealing copy from The Onion?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

“The UK can draw on its experience occupying Northern Ireland, (that went well, didn’t it?)”
Actually, yes it did. The UK protected Catholics from Protestants and Protestants from the IRA. It also defeated the IRA militarily, kept Northern Ireland in the UK in accordance with the wishes of the majority, and prosecuted the Good Friday Agreement.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
3 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

It also provided superb training for junior commanders for nigh on thirty years, and also retarded swingeing Defence cuts that might otherwise have been the case after the withdrawal from Aden.
In fact in many ways it was a godsend for the British Army.

Last edited 3 months ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
3 months ago

Except for the squaddies who died there.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Yup, though you lose (fewer) squaddies in training too.
The higher fatality risk of conflict did, as Sulpicia says, provide invaluable training that the army and intelligence services was able to put to great use in dealing with terrorists – especially the far more dangerous Islamic terrorists.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
3 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Whose colleagues are still being persecuted by the Northern Ireland Judiciary, aided and abetted by the wretched USA.

Bill W
Bill W
3 months ago

Not one successful extradition from the US to UK, I believe. And then Blair subsequently permitted an even worse extradition agreement. At least the French have something right.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
3 months ago
Reply to  Bill W

Absolutely correct. I think we made over 300 applications and all failed thanks to the pernicious influence of the Kennedy’s, Pelosi and NORAID..
As for Blair ‘words fail me’.

James Joyce
James Joyce
3 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Cheers, mate: if you think the occupation of NI was a success, I don’t think I can convince you otherwise, but with respect, I disagree.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I agree that the army being there was a success, though I wish we’d been more clinical. But we were learning about terrorism and insurgency fighting back then, and this learning was hugely useful later.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

James, the military action was a success – its the politicians who mucked things up. It was, in some ways, a crazy mixed-up situation. The CO of one of the Irish Navy mineswipers (ex-RN “Ton” class) was an Englishman (ex Royal Navy). Two members of my RN boarding party were Catholics from the Republic. Our aim was to keep the hotheads from both sides apart and if we had to bang a few heads together then so be it. Our job was to give the politicians time to talk. We succeeded – the politicians failed. I upset the INLA big time even after leaving the service. My name (and address) was eventually leaked by the ‘Mole’ at Storemont. When informed of that by Special Branch I told them that they (the INLA/IRA) could “fill their boots” – Any time, ammunition or explosives used to target me would go towards saving the life of a young Serviceman – AND. they would have to get real lucky. I was, and still am, willing ti kill (again). – PS My last few years at sea were with an Irish shipping company – no problems.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Brave man/men. Thank you for your service

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

!?

James Joyce
James Joyce
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Define success. Was Vietnam a success because they now make our sneakers?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

One of your Grunt colonels did say, as he was castigated for speaking-out. “We would have won if everybody, including the [High-Command], had been billeted under canvas and my regiment not been decimated by having to supply good infantrymen to serve as bar-keeps and waiters in the Officers’ Messes.” Towards the end your fighting-men (As opposed to General Staff) were beginning to fight them with their own methods, going into the tunnels, etc. The General Staff seemed to be more concerned with stats (enemy body-counts in old-speak) Not quite “Lions led by Donkeys” but leaning that way.

Last edited 3 months ago by Doug Pingel
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

The Troubles costs about 3,000 lives in total over 30 years. In the USA there were 5-6 gun murders per 100,000 people each year over the same period – that equates to about 2,400 gun murders in 30 years for a population of 1.5 million, that of NI only.
So the British army kept Northern Ireland, during a war, almost as safe as the USA in peacetime. I’d say that’s a success.
You’re right that you don’t need to be the world’s policeman, you’ve got enough warring going on inside the USA to deal with.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Stewart
Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
3 months ago

I cannot help but suspect that what she actually wants from taking a firmer stance against Putin is not to wage war with him, but to put things on hold long enough for the media hype to calm down. Then Putin can send those 100 000 back home, Germany can go and settle back into its addiction to Russian gas, Russia cannot back to it’s very gradual but inevitable collapse and we can all be happy.

But truly, is there any greater threat to world democracy than the energy demands of the Liberal West?

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
3 months ago

Meow!

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
3 months ago

Seems the stupidity includes a lot more people than just Applebaum.
However one defines Real Politik, there is nothing “real” about the clueless predicament the West finds itself in.
Becoming dependent on only one source of gas, when Germany still had nuclear sites, was nothing short of idiocy. Ditto for not maintaining a coherent defence when Russia was obviously rearming. Anyone who had any doubts about Putin’s intentions toward the West after 2014 is a fool.
Putin doesn’t just want Ukraine back. He wants the Baltics, and a neutered Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and Bulgaria. He also wants to make Europe as poor and dependent on Russia as possible.
And given the fecklessness of most European leaders (and some on this site), he is liable to get it. Reality is about to get a lot more “real.”
And nobody’s going to like it.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
3 months ago

Of course, part of the reason Russia has so much power due to its natural gas resources right now is that Germany is abandoning green energy (read: nuclear power) in favor of fossil fuels. Oh, and Biden has assumed the powers of Congress to executive order away the energy dependence the US had in recent years, all of which not only gives Russia more leverage, but gives it the hard cash it needs to fund its military buildup.
If only there was a president who would encourage the US and other nations to exploit their own energy resources, be it fossil fuels or nuclear energy, and put the screws on Russia’s budget. Actually, turns out there was one like that, very recently. Applebaum was not a fan of his. So why this change of heart?

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
3 months ago

The Atlantic has become a sketchpad for the various fulminant neuroses and fantasies of urban liberals.

Michael Friedman
Michael Friedman
3 months ago

A very insightful piece.