Like yesterday’s essay by Tecumseh Court—Year Zero—this Cosmopolicast with Vladislav Davidzon considers the war in Ukraine in the context of the Iraq war. For those of you who don’t like podcasts, I’ve provided an (imperfect) transcript below.
Claire: Hi, it’s Claire with the Cosmopolitan Globalist, and this is the Cosmopolicast. We have Vladislav Davidzon with us again. Welcome, Vladislav.
Claire: That was my cat.
Vladislav: Yes, I don’t meow like that cat. Although I still have some of the qualities of the cat. The more masculine ones.
Claire: The nonstop demand for attention.
Vladislav: No, come on. C’mon—no, cats actually can be—come on, Claire.
Claire: Well, what other qualities do you have in common?
Claire: You’re not six inches tall. You don’t don’t crap in a box.
Vladislav: —a certain elegant grace—
Claire: Which one are you talking about?
Vladislav: —a certain cunningness, a certain ferociousness—
Claire: Elegant grace, like my tripod—
Vladislav: Alright, sustained. Sustained, Claire.
Claire: All right. We’re going to talk about Ukraine and the Iraq War anniversary. Because our listeners haven’t been privy to our conversations, we’re going to have to repeat ourselves—because they haven’t been overhearing what we’ve been saying for the past couple of days. So why don’t we begin by telling them what you’ve been up to since our last podcast?
Vladislav: Oh, Claire. I’m so manically busy that I can’t sit still, so I don’t even know where to begin, to be honest. I put together a big Jewish conference in Washington, DC. In February, I went to America. I did some talks about Ukraine. I flew to Berlin for the premiere of the Sean Penn Zelensky documentary film, which I was a producer on. And that was fun. Spent two days in Berlin, saw some Berlin people. The Berlin Film Festival stuff, including some nightclubby stuff with the Ukrainians, after my friend Tonya Noyabrova had her film premiere at the at the Berlin Film Festival, she’s a Ukrainian lady who had a wonderful film called, “Do You Love Me,” appropriately enough. I had a cameo role in that film, playing Drunken Intellectual #2.
Claire: Are you in the credits as Drunken Intellectual #2?
Vladislav: Indeed I am. I was trying to get Drunken Intellectual #1, who is standing on top of a table and screaming about his party ticket in 1990, trying to rip up his Soviet party membership on New Year’s year in 1990 in the movie … I'm trying to get him off the table, saying, “No, no, don’t rip it off. Don’t do it, man.”
Claire: OK, right. So you were in Ukraine, what, 13 days ago?
Vladislav: Yes, after the Berlin Film Festival was over, I flew through Romania into Moldova. There was no coup d’état, as we were all promised, in Moldova. So after about a day of hanging out waiting for the coup d’état, I realized there would be no coup d’état and I went straight to Odesa. I spent about about a week and half there and left through Poland on the other way out. Because one can’t fly into Ukraine again.
Claire: How’s the mood in Odesa?
Vladislav: Oddly placid, oddly resilient, scattershot anger, plus the fact that the city isn’t a ghost town, but it’s so sparsely populated that most of the population that I know is gone. Oddly, the suburbs are more populated than the city center. A lot of the apartments in the city center belong to welfare people, or they’re up for rent by the people who come into Odessa. They’re sitting there empty, so you can walk around the city center at 11:00 o’clock, right before the start of martial law, and you’ll see nobody. And it’s really creepy because there’s no electricity on at 11:00 o’clock.
Claire: What should I understand about what’s going on in Ukraine that hasn’t been widely reported in the last week or two?
Vladislav: What’s hard to understand is that it’s different from city to city. It’s really hard to understand what’s going on, even for me, or for anybody. The country’s in such flux that it’s really difficult to understand what’s happening from place to place. It’s like little different countries from place to place. What’s going on in Chernivtsi, where my ancestors are from, to Poltava, to Kiev, to Kharkiv, to Odesa, to Mariupol, to Nikolaev—it’s all completely different, or completely different situations. Lviv is a boomtown, an absolute boomtown.
Claire: Everyone’s gone there, right?
Vladislav: Correct. Everyone who wanted to stay in the country, who didn’t want to flee, has gone there, right? Everyone who had money to buy an apartment or to rent something long-term and to take their capital out of Kharkiv and Melitopol and Mariupol and Kherson—all those people went to Lviv. So Lviv is an absolute boomtown. It’s full of international aid people. It’s full of international diplomats, people from organizations who have to operate there—
Claire: You just disappeared. Sorry about that. He just disappeared.
Claire: I lost you. You were just saying what a boomtown it was. And all the aid agencies are there. And the diplomats—
Vladislav: Yeah, all the all the diplomats, all the aid agencies, all the people from the international NGOs and all that, all those people who are doing something useful—or or trying to do something useful, or if we’re going to be more cynical, are quasi-useless—they’re there for whatever reason in the country, they can’t operate out east, so they all sit there. So I’ve heard that a one-bedroom apartment in the outskirts of Lviv is now renting for US$2,500 a month. Which is nuts.
Claire: Well, are you getting any sense at all of how the actual war is going, or is that impossible to tell from where you’ve been?
Vladislav: You know, when I pass through the South, I do talk to military people. And I did get up to Nikolaev, which is quiet now. The South is quiet up to Kherson, right? And there are different places with different relative amounts of fire, like Kharkiv is more quiet now than it was a couple of weeks ago. The electrical infrastructure grid attacks are down because the spring is upon us and the Russians basically were not able to destroy the electrical infrastructure, right. So the country survived the winter, which was a historically mild one. So Mother Nature is on our side.
Claire: What’s had me concerned is there’s been a flurry of articles of a very different tone. For example, one recently, in the Washington Post, talking about how despair is creeping in on the front lines.
Vladislav: Yeah, they’re tired. The guys, and ladies and in the very very very front lines are very tired. Not surprisingly. The casualties around Bakhmut are horrific for both sides. They’re much worse for the Russians, but they’re in the business of taking five casualties for every dead Ukrainian soldier. And it’s an attrition war. They have the casualties, and they don’t care about casualties in the long term. They don’t care about about human capital. They don’t care about their people. So they can get away with that, whereas the Ukrainians really do care about casualties, and every dead Ukrainian does—in the long term—create bad things for the society. The attrition is really bad from the middle classes and the intelligentsia and the wealthy. The Russians, their intelligentsia, the middle class, the elites—they’re not fighting. Their kids aren’t fighting every day in Ukraine.
Claire: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Vladislav: Whereas every day in Ukraine, you see, on social media, pictures of people from classes that don’t fight in in the West. Just yesterday, I saw a prominent archaeologist and professor of history from Kyiv—was killed in Bakhmut. The day before that, I saw my acquaintance, who’s a former minister in the in the Zelensky government, and an economist, and someone—I mean, do you need the gentlemen’s name or not?
Claire: No, no, I get the—
Vladislav: It doesn’t matter. He was just putting out photos of his graduate students in economics, from Kyiv’s Higher School of of Economics, who had been killed on the front. He put out like 24, 25 photos of his graduate students in economics who have been killed in the last year. That’s remarkable, isn’t it?
Claire: It’s unbearable.
Vladislav: It’s unbearable, and that’s just the dead economists, right? There are also dead liberal arts people, there are dead historians. They’re dead people from all different levels of government, from the upper echelons to the City Council. The society is being wrecked. If there really are 100,000 dead and wounded Ukrainian soldiers—which is entirely possible and perhaps even likely—in a country of 40 million, that means everybody knows somebody.
Claire: Of course.
Vladislav: And you know, the intelligentsia and the middle class is not particularly large in Ukraine, compared to how big a society it is. It’s a very small elite.
Claire: And hugely important human capital for rebuilding and for recovering—
Vladislav: 189 athletes who were supposed to compete in the Olympic Games next year are dead. Can you imagine? It’s just unbearable.
Claire: It’s just—
Vladislav: It is unbearable, and it’s a disproportionate loss of the best people in society, to the point where you’re going to have to make comparisons to the killed intelligentsia in the ‘30s—Stalin famously shot all the writers and artists and the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the ‘30s in Kharkiv—
Claire: And I don’t want to be depressing, but you know Russia never recovered from that.
Vladislav: Well, Ukraine never recovered that. I'm talking about the Ukrainian intelligentsia that was killed, not the Russian intelligentsia. Clearly, they were also shot. But the Ukrainians, for nationalist reasons, to keep a national awakening and a national middle class and elite class from forming or congealing, the Soviets just shot a couple of thousand, like six or seven thousand, in Kharkiv alone, if I remember my history, not that I do, but whatever it was, it was thousands and thousands of writers, poets, translators, historians, academics, intellectuals, etcetera, etcetera. And so the Russians are doing that in slow motion now by killing off swathes of the fighting elite.
Claire: Well, are we getting the weapons there too late to stop—
Vladislav: Yeah, already it’s too late—a lot of these weapons should have been here in the summer of ‘22, clearly.
Claire: Why aren’t they? Do you have any insight into that?
Vladislav: Because the Biden Administration is still playing this double game. They don’t want to go too fast. They don’t want to incite the Russians to—
Claire: What are they thinking?
Vladislav: What are they thinking? They’re thinking that if they go in too fast and give too many weapons, the Russians will become even crazier, and then then they'll use chemical weapons—
Claire: Why do they think that? Do they have some intelligence reason for thinking that, or are they just operating on a gut feeling?
Vladislav: It’s a doctrine. It’s a doctrine.
Claire: It’s immoral. It’s utterly immoral.
Vladislav: I believe so, also, yes.
Claire: I mean, to have both Afghanistan and that on his hands is not a good record for a president.
Vladislav: We are living through the time of imperial decline, my dear Claire.
Claire: What can ordinary people do to get it through the Biden Administration’s heads that this is not a joke, they’ve got to get their fingers out of their—
Vladislav: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’ve been away from America for so long that I don’t really know what it is that we can do, or we can counsel ordinary people to do. I really don’t know. I'm sorry to say I just don’t have any idea of what would do anything. I mean, this is the one thing on which there is a consensus in America, which is a very divided and polarized place of course—
Claire: Well, no, there isn’t consensus about it. I mean, the Republicans are rapidly becoming disenchanted, largely thanks to Tucker Carlson, who’s been just an incredibly effective propagandist.
Vladislav: Is it really Tucker? Is it really just Tucker Carlson?
Claire: I think it is.
Vladislav: It’s just—?
Claire: I think it is. Tucker Carlson, and there’s, you know, a few other prominent figures who reinforce it. But I think Tucker Carlson is having a very disproportionate impact, and you can track his influence. Support for Ukraine was up at like 80 percent among the GOP six months ago. But now it’s down to 50 percent, or 45 percent, and it’s really, really closely tied to Fox News.1
Vladislav: Look, I don’t know. I’m not in America. I haven’t really looked into it. I know that he’s a malign influence. I do. I wouldn’t put an entire policy shift on his on his doorstep. I just don’t have the information to do that, perhaps that’s—
Claire: Well there’s a reason that Ron DeSantis revealed his big Ukraine policy to Tucker Carlson.
Vladislav: Yeah, I’m not gonna be—I flirted with the idea of voting for Ron DeSantis. I won’t be doing that now.
Vladislav: I am an American citizen. I briefly thought about voting for Ron DeSantis. You know, I’m not a particularly partisan guy. I’m not a member of any political party. I don’t even believe in the two-party system. I don’t like that. And I vote for policy over personalities, over party loyalty. I have particular policies that I care about. At this point, I’m a single issue voter, and that issue is—
Claire: Yeah, me too. Me too. It makes me sick to my stomach. I almost can’t think of it because it’s so distressing to think of the real odds that Trump or DeSantis will be the president and will allow not only Ukraine, but I think Europe, to fall.
Vladislav: I do believe that De Santis is just in it to win it, he’s just a cynical politician who is careening and cavorting and aligning his policies as to what he thinks he needs to get through a primary. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is just cynical. I can work with cynical. That’s fine.
Claire: Yeah, except that he—his policies reflect his cynical impulses. I mean, this is the guy who actually banned private companies from having mask and vaccine mandates—on private property, right? I mean, he’s willing to get his own supporters killed if he thinks it’s politically advantageous. He’s not someone who says something immoral and then does the right thing.
Vladislav: But he’s executing the policy of his voters—that’s what a politician should be doing, essentially, right? I mean, he represents his voters.
Claire: No. Politicians lead. A politician should lead his voters. He shouldn’t follow them, especially when his voters are dead wrong.
Vladislav: Well, you know, he wouldn’t be in power if he was continuously misreading his voters’ intentions and desires. I mean, you know, this is not a question that political scientists and you and me are going to settle tonight, here in Paris, in the Marais. But you know—whatever. Yeah, I agree.
Claire: So the point is, it makes me really ill to think that Biden might be the best chance we have—and he’s not good enough.
Vladislav: Correct. Yeah. I mean, I’ll probably have to calibrate to voting for Biden—but this isn't about me. This is about Ukrainians. It does seem to be the case that the consensus that we had for the first year of this terrible, terrible war—this Blitzkrieg total war—is about to disintegrate. It does seem to be the case.
Claire: Yeah. And if it disintegrates in the US, Europe is going to fall apart.
Vladislav: It’s actually interestingly surprising that it lasted this long, isn’t it?
Claire: It depends. I mean, from one point of view, I would find it unbelievable if there weren’t a consensus. I mean, Europe is really under threat. If you can’t get it together to recognize a mortal threat and protect yourself, you kind of have to wonder how these people managed to survive billions of years of evolution to get to this point in the first place. On the other hand, yes, it is surprising that Europe kept it together for this long and I don’t quite—
Vladislav: What Europe has kept together almost doesn’t matter. It’s the Americans who lead. Without American weapons and American wherewithal and American attention and Americans—
Claire: —telling people what to do.
Vladislav: Right, correct. I mean it’s just not going to last without America in the game.
Claire: Yeah, right. I’m just worried that America is is losing focus. Losing focus, and that Americans don’t understand how important this is. They just don’t.
Vladislav: I think they did, actually. I’m not sure if that’s the case, or maybe it was the shock of how brazen this was, that we had that political consensus in the country for as long as we had it, for about the first year of the war. And things really are falling apart now because the shock has worn off and and people don’t have the intellectual wherewithal to understand why this is important. Maybe that’s the case. But maybe it’s also the case that American political elites, including Biden, are not making the case—
Claire: Biden is not making the case.
Vladislav: Maybe it’s the—
Claire: —He has not given one major—I mean, FDR would have been talking to the American people every weekend, in a fireside chat. Biden is not making the case, and I don’t know—is it because he recognizes the limits of his abilities as a speaker, or because he doesn’t see the importance of doing that?
Vladislav: Yeah, that’s a great question. I haven’t thought about why he isn’t doing it. Maybe it’s just that they don’t want to antagonize the other side—but no one has made, on the Democratic elite side, a forceful case for why we should continue supporting Ukraine—
Vladislav: Like, an hour-long speech.
Claire: Biden can’t choke it out. But at least Pete Buttigieg—he’s the only member of the administration who’s capable of giving a speech where he doesn’t stumble over his own tongue—
Vladislav: But you know, there are others. People like Charles Schumer. Senator Schumer, who was very nice to me when I was his intern, at 17, he was great. I knew him very well when I was 17 years old, which is already twenty years ago, when he was a young senator.
Claire: Would he remember you well enough that you could call him up and ask him what’s going on?
Vladislav: I mean—I could get through using my my sinecure, family connections, and my, like, quasi-importance in the world if we want to call it that. Yeah, I could—
Claire: I’d just like to know whether, in Washington, they appreciate that they’re running out of time. There’s no reason for these weapons to be held up. They need to be there yesterday.
Vladislav: They need to be there, not yesterday, but last summer, actually. Not yesterday, but six to eight months ago. Yeah, it would have made a real point. And the Ukrainians could have knocked the Russians out in the war if we’d just prepared them—the Biden Administration has as much as the Trump Administration to answer for. The Biden Administration has a lot to answer for, for not preparing the Ukrainians enough when they knew it was going to happen, right? They were right. History has proven them correct about the intelligence. But if that was the case, why didn’t they spend six months feverishly arming the Ukrainians, because you know—whatever. Yeah, we need the weapons right now, and we need someone very important on the Democratic, and the Republican, side to make a—
Claire: —make the point that Ukraine could lose, which would mean Ukraine would be obliterated as a political entity, forever. There’d be a genocide, another one, in the heart of Europe, and it wouldn’t stop there.
Vladislav: It wouldn’t stop there, and it would collapse, it would collapse all sorts of stuff in Europe. It would be incredibly bad for Europe.
Claire: It would be incredibly bad. It would be, probably, a mortal blow to the West and to the project of liberal democracy.
Vladislav: Yeah, I mean we’re really at the point where the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians are on one side of a a war against the entire liberal democratic world order and—
Claire: —and either they’re pushed back here or they’re not going to be pushed back.
Vladislav: I don’t know. I don’t know why we don’t—why we don’t stand up and and have a world-historical process of rearming, and just giving everything—
Claire: I don’t either. I don’t understand why Europe isn’t frantically rearming. I don’t—
Vladislav: Well, they’re trying. They’re trying. I mean, they spent so many decades disarming that even trying to rearm, it still takes years to reestablish a military industrial complex, plants, and all that. I mean, the Americans spent decades disarming, also—it’s going to take until 2024 or 25 just to produce the amount of shells every six months that Ukraine is eating up in a month and half, right? We’re buying that stuff up from the South Koreans, or scouring the world looking for it, but it’s too little, too late.
Claire: Who’s the “we” here? You mean the United States? Or Ukraine?
Vladislav: Well, I certainly am. I don’t know what other people are doing. A lot of people are looking around Africa, South America, Asia—looking to buy anything that’s available. The Americans are going around emptying bases in Israel, in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, getting as much out as they can, off the shelves in the warehouses, to Ukraine. They’re trying to figure out how much they can give up of their supplies in America, without running low for a conventional war that they might have to fight on the Korean Peninsula or potentially Taiwan. They are ramping up production, but too slowly, and it’s just not possible. And they’re also trying to figure out how to keep the Russians from getting that stuff. And they’ve also been doing a lot of very creative stuff, like trying to figure out if they can give over stuff that they capture from terrorist regimes and from the Iranians shipping them to—
Claire: I saw that. That I saw it doesn’t mean listeners have heard about it—
Vladislav: Why don’t you tell the listeners—
Claire: They’ve seized stuff in international waters. They’ve sanctions-busted stuff going to Iran and they’re giving it to Ukraine.
Vladislav: Well, they’re trying to give it to Ukraine. It’s actually very difficult from a legal standpoint to do it. They actually have to reclassify it. There’s all sorts of arms control stuff. We can’t actually take stuff from terrorists and just give it to our friends, or use it.
Claire: Why not?
Vladislav: It’s very, very, very complicated.
Claire: One thing we meant to talk about is the long shadow of the Iraq War.
Vladislav: It’s been twenty years. My Ukrainian, my French-Ukrainian wife just asked me about this. She’s like, “So what’s the point about Iraq and and Ukraine? I really don’t understand.” And my wife said this as a Ukrainian citizen, a patriot. So—right.
Claire: I think you have to go back to the eerie parallels to the America First movement in the wake of the First World War, which was widely seen in the United States as a complete waste—many very similar conspiracy theories about how we had entered the war thanks to the war profiteers, and it was all based on a lie, and a general anti-war sentiment that was based in a sense of disillusionment, after the First World War, because it hadn’t lived up to the promises that people had been being given about what would happen—you know, a war to end all wars, a war for democracy. And then, when the real threat came in the form—
Vladislav: —Yeah, right.
Claire: —of Hitler, Americans couldn’t recognize it. They thought, “This is just another passel of lies, like the ones we were fed the last time.”
Vladislav: Yeah, and they were fed a passel of lies twenty years ago in Iraq—
Claire: Well, no, I don’t think they were. I think that’s one of the conspiracy theories, that we were fed a passel of lies. We were fed a passel of mistakes. But I think they were honest mistakes.
Vladislav: I’m friends with Judy Miller. I'll call her up and ask her what she and others say. I mean, there are a lot of really self-exculpating essays being published this week by people who should never be heard from in polite society ever again. You know? I’m not of the opinion that American elites made more mistakes than they were malicious. They had some really, really, really bad ideas, also. It wasn’t just the mistakes. It was bad policy coupled with utopian fantasies and American psychosis of a kind that they go in for—
Claire: In the wake of September 11th, yeah.
Vladislav: Well, you know, look, after September 11th—I mean, I was in New York as a 16-year-old kid during September 11th. I remember it very well. Obviously, something needed to be blown up after that. No self-respecting country in the entire world, with nuclear missiles and a large army, would not blow something up after that. No government in the world could survive without some sort of police action after September 11th, right? Something did need to get blown up. That or someone needed to be overthrown, or someone needed to be killed, or whatever. It was the kind of thing that had to be responded to in order to keep one’s position in the world and keep one’s own people from going crazy, right? That’s a very serious attack on America, on the Pentagon, on New York City. I remember it very well as a kid growing up in New York as a teenager. The problem was that they fell under the delusion—by then, the neoconservatives, the Republican Party, whatever—that they could reformat an entire civilization, which they didn’t quite understand, in the middle of a desert.
Claire: Which they didn’t understand it at all.
Vladislav: Well, that was, yeah, that was that was a euphemism. That’s a euphemism.
Claire: But I mean, people might be young enough to not remember this. I should stress that Saddam Hussein was considered a very big problem, as indeed he was, well before September 11th. I mean, I was teaching the problem of Saddam Hussein in my Introduction to Middle East Politics class well before September 11th. It wasn’t that this suddenly was invented out of whole cloth.
Vladislav: No, this is real. This is all real enough. But the the fact that you have real geopolitical issues that you need to deal with doesn’t also mean that you need to go in for psychotic, apocalyptic fantasias of your belief in your own capacity to restructure a civilization far away, that you do not understand, in your own image.
Claire: But I think you’re exaggerating what happened. I mean, it went very badly because we made some specific mistakes. If we hadn’t made those mistakes, we might be talking about this very differently, but—
Vladislav: I don’t. I think it was overdetermined, actually.
Claire: No, I don’t think it was. See, that’s where we really disagree. I don’t think was overdetermined. I think it was very much contingent. It could have gone differently.
Vladislav: It could—look, things turned out about as about as bad as they as they could have. I agree that things could have turned out slightly better. I mean, we’re gonna play hypotheticals—what if we had allowed the Ba’ath party to stay intact? What if we kept the army together? What if we kept the civil service together? What if we partition the country?
Claire: What if we hadn’t tried to do it with the light mobile force, what if we if we had provided security in the country—the looting—if we did all of these things …
Vladislav: Right, exactly.
Claire: I mean, these were unforgivable mistakes. Each of them, because they reflected total unseriousness. If you’re going to invade a country—especially, if you’re going to invade a country in a way that the entire world finds finds deeply suspicious—you better get it right.
Vladislav: Correct. So, but even the 18-year-old me who was marching against it, exactly twenty years ago, did not believe that that they were capable of doing it correctly. I mean, I probably wasn’t quite articulate enough to express it in the ways that I would now, at the time, even though I think I was fairly precocious politically. But it didn’t seem like they were capable of doing it. And the arguments of the critics who were saying that we didn’t have the capacity to do it—although we had all the capacity in the world to win the war and to overthrow the regime—those were very convincing arguments at the time, and—
Claire: There were convincing arguments on both sides. I mean, people forget them now. There were also very convincing arguments to the effect that it was highly likely that he had reconstituted his weapons program. And we were shocked that he hadn’t. Remember in the first Gulf War, we discovered he had, and we’d missed it.
Vladislav: And this is something—
Claire: That he’d already tried to swallow up Kuwait. So I think there was—in retrospect, with hindsight, we know what happened. But at the time I do not think that it was a crazy thing to think, “Well, maybe this is the right thing to do,” and neither did, you know, everyone in Congress. Everyone voted for it except for Barbara Lee.
Vladislav: Right, everyone except Barbara Lee. Yeah. I remember when I was 17 years old, I actually asked Senator Schumer about it. I had a conversation with Senator Schumer as a 17 year old, which in retrospect is completely wild. You know, the fact that Senator Schumer explained to me and some other interns what his thinking was twenty years ago, when I was a 17-year-old kid.
Claire: Why is that wild? You know what? Over the weekend we were talking about what it is that every American has in common. I think that’s absolutely the essence of American culture, that a senator would explain to these 17-year-old interns what he was thinking about this. Don’t you think? That’s something that Americans would not find strange.
Vladislav: Would the French—
Claire: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s any other culture that’s as un-hierarchical as the US that way.
Vladislav: I imagine—although my friends in the House of Lords actually don’t have interns or assistants, and they complain about it. They all complain that they don't have any help. Imagine a French senator. Could he have, theoretically, a bull session with his young interns?
Claire: He would lecture them about it. “Alors, j’explique … ”
Vladislav: He wouldn’t listen to their concerns and have a conversation with them, right?
Claire: No, he wouldn’t. He would lecture them. He would explain how the problem has three parts. And the first part has two parts, and—
Vladislav: Right, and he’s going to solve the third part. Yeah, right. Yeah, that seems right. But that hypothetical French senator who is, of course, intellectually robust and thinks of himself as a real thinker, whether he is or not—could go either way—he would certainly lecture his young interns, but he probably wouldn’t listen to them, right?
Claire: No, he wouldn’t listen to them. I mean, I think it really is—Americans are much less hierarchical. We really took that whole business about all men being created equal much more seriously than people grasp if they’ve never left America.
Vladislav: Yeah, it’s true, but yeah—I’ve spent a lot of time in lots of different places, certainly Ukrainian and Russian elites would not listen to their 18-year-old interns and and explain themselves to them. I mean, that’s completely wild. The United States senator, who was my senator when I was 17 years old, we asked him about it and he gave us a compelling explanation of what he was thinking. I don’t even remember exactly what he said, but he sat down and he gave us the arguments. And in retrospect, that’s kind of an amazing experience to have, right?
Claire: It’s amazing in terms of the history of the world, and the rest of the world, but it is not unusual for America.
Vladislav: Would that happen—I mean, you know, Senator Schumer is a Jewish intellectual. From New York. Who got 1600 on his SATs. And—
Claire: But I bet most of the senators are willing to talk like that with their interns.
Vladislav: Back in the office, they’ll have a nice conversation, and then they’ll answer the questions?
Claire: Yeah. Because you’re inculcating democratic habits, and because Americans talk to each other like equals.
Vladislav: Yeah, there’s no aristocracy. I mean—how do you even address the United States senator? Right?
Claire: Well, how do you, actually—did you call him “Senator?”
Vladislav: I didn’t call him “Chuck.” Because some of some of the stuff called him Chuck.
Claire: Yeah, no, I wouldn’t. That would be inappropriate.
Vladislav: But yeah, I, at 17, never called Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, “Chuck.” I just want to note for the record.
Claire: Yeah, I think that’s appropriate.
Vladislav: I think clearly so. Clearly so. Yeah, I mean, he was nice. I still think. very highly of him and I like him.
Claire: If you can, get him to come on the podcast and explain what’s going with the speed of our weapon transfers to Ukraine, we can talk to him about why this is important, and why we’ve got to get on the stick.
Vladislav: Of all the things I would ask Senator Schumer if I was to put in the effort—I mean, I could get access to him, if I put effort into it. Should I put the effort into it?
Claire: Yeah, absolutely. He needs to hear from his constituents that something’s going wrong.
Vladislav: He needs to hear from his constituent, Claire Berlinski. His constituents in Paris.
Claire: Well, you’re his constituent. My senator is in Virginia. Senators.
Vladislav: Oh, you’re from Virginia?
Claire: The last place you voted, if you’re absentee voting. And that’s where I last voted.
Vladislav: OK, well, he’s certainly my senator. I think of him as my senator. He was very nice to me, anyways. Let’s return to Ukraine. Right now, we’ve gotten off topic a little bit.
Claire: So the [Iraq] war has left such a profound disillusionment, such a sense of American incompetence, reinforced by Afghanistan, such a sense that no matter what we touch, it turns to shit, that we’re using that as an excuse for failing in our responsibilities.
Vladislav: Yeah, this is the problem with crying wolf. Cause no one believes you when you actually do the right thing later on—
Claire: When there really is an emergency of this nature.
Vladislav: When there really is an emergency, no one will believe you. That’s the problem with crying wolf. Don’t do it, kids. Don’t cry wolf. No one will believe you. Credibility is a real thing, and it is a thing that you can taste and you can you can smell and touch with your fingers, almost. It’s almost a thing that surrounds us, envelops us like a fog. Credibility is real and it’s not to be taken for granted.
Claire: Yeah, I’m just thinking about that. I’m thinking that’s true, but also it’s a very convenient excuse for people who are basically trying to indulge the desire to be cowardly and to not get involved in in something that could demand something of them.
Vladislav: Americans aren’t cowardly. Of their many negative character traits, that’s not one at all. Americans are strong. They’re vibrant. They’re virtuous. They’re full of vigor, vim and vigor. All these words that start with letter V: virtue, vulgarity, vim, vigor.
Claire: Well, how do you explain Tucker Carlson trying to persuade Americans to sour on supporting Ukraine? I think it’s pure cowardice.
Vladislav: I don’t think it’s cowardice. I think he has a deep set of psychological grievances that have to do with his own relationships with people in American politics. I think he is deeply enveloped in his own grievances and he’s taking positions, and being a proud man—which I do believe that he is, I believe that he’s a proud man—he feels left out, or whatever.
Claire: He has said repeatedly that he feels profound guilt for having supported the Iraq war and—
Vladislav: Well, that’s honest. That’s honest. No one else has said this. The American political leaders never had that conversation. People who were completely responsible for the worst kinds of miscalculations are writing, this week, essays everywhere saying they underestimated how screwed up Saddam Hussein left Iraq, and how screwed up civil society was.
Claire: Who are you thinking of, because I didn’t see those essays. Which ones are you thinking of?
Vladislav: Let me—
Claire: I’m including a selection for our reading list today and I didn’t see that.2
Vladislav: You didn’t see them? They’re everywhere. Let me look for them.
Claire: Send them to me afterwards, because people aren’t going to be real patient as you’re searching, but—
Vladislav: Yeah, OK. I've seen a lot of them. There are a lot of self-exculpating op-eds, and we should be much less tolerant of these people.
Claire: And I’m seeing a lot of, “Iraq twenty years later,” how terrible it was and what a mistake it was, and—
Vladislav: There’s a lot of that.
Claire: I’m seeing that being used as an excuse to do the wrong thing here—
Vladislav: There’s a lot of that.
Claire: —which is completely self-indulgent.
Vladislav: It is completely self-indulgent, but it was a a bipartisan case. And you know, Robert Kaplan just wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal. I just looked it up.3 He says, “I hadn’t sufficiently understood that Saddam’s absolute rule had destroyed every vestige of civil society in Iraq.” Well, you know. Sorry. That conversation never took place in America about what went wrong and all the many things that went wrong over the last twenty years—the deindustrialization of a country, two lost two wars, the financial bailout—
Claire: What do you mean the conversation hasn’t taken place? It’s all we talk about.
Vladislav: Who? Look, who was talking about this eight years ago, five years ago? Granted in 2008, large swaths of the American population voted for Barack Obama, which you could say was a huge response to what what was going on, and and then he—
Claire: But what kind of conversation do you think is “a national conversation?” If you have newspaper articles about it, if you have people talking about it, is that not a national conversation?
Vladislav: We’re having it now, but like it’s not like anyone in the Bush administration was pushed out of public life or publicly pilloried in the way that [the politicians associated with] Vietnam were publicly pilloried. I just don’t think the society really kind of dealt with it, with the trauma.
Claire: I kind of understand what you mean, because I just saw opinion polling that suggests fewer than 4 percent of Americans even think about the Iraq war on a regular basis.
Vladislav: It’s ancient history. It is ancient history.
Claire: Which is peculiar. Only the United States do things pass out of memory as quickly as that.
Vladislav: Look, in in Europe when you say, “That’s history,” what you mean is “That’s important.” And in America, when you say, “That’s history, it’s ancient history,” what you mean is that’s of no importance whatsoever to things now. Is that right?
Claire: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s kind of the difference between the New World and the Old World. But I don’t know whether the fact that we don’t think about it or talk about it means that we’re not processing it at all, or that we really just don’t think about it.
Vladislav: There’s—no, no, we’re definitely processing the trauma as a society and the way that things really went bad. I think—
Claire: Well, we’re processing it, perhaps we’re displacing it onto Ukraine, which is a sign of a repressed memory that’s causing you harm because it’s not being dealt with consciously.
Vladislav: Yeah, sure. That’s right. Yeah, that’s basic psychoanalysis. I mean, look, we, as a country, are acting out.
Claire: Yes, exactly.
Vladislav: Things have gone really bad. Things got really bad and I think large swaths of the population are really unhappy. I think if you asked lots of people, “Do you think the country is on the right on the right path, have American political leaders”—
Claire: Oh, I think no one would say yes.
Vladislav: Well, American political elites, I actually I do meet people who yell at me, say who say, “Well, in every age things go wrong. This is all your Trumpian worldview. You’re kind of adjacent to Trumpism when you say that we and my generation failed. In every generation, some things are bad and some things are good—”
Claire: No, I think it’s a uniquely anxious age. For some reasons that are not the fault of policymakers, but some that are.
Vladislav: I think that American political elites got a lot very badly wrong. And in my observation of them, in my dealings with them in in DC, they are, or seem to be, of noticeably poorer in quality than the generation 25, 30 years ago.
Claire: That’s absolutely manifest.
Vladislav: Am I wrong?
Claire: No, it’s clear as daylight. I can document it. I can show you the difference.
Vladislav: I mean, I wasn’t there 25-30 years ago, but these people seem to be extraordinarily mediocre compared to the people who ran the institutions 30 years ago.
Claire: Well contrast—have you seen the speech, for example, I linked it a few weeks ago, of JFK speaking during the Cuban Missile crisis? Compare that speech to anything Joe Biden says, but especially to what he’s said about Ukraine, which is actually nothing.
Vladislav: Look at the last three American presidents. Granted, Barack Obama is seen as a very good president, still, by large swaths.
Claire: Yeah, but he was actually catastrophic. And one of the problems is that people don’t recognize this.
Vladislav: I know, I know.
Claire: So again—they’re bifurcating. They’re not thinking about this problem correctly, because part of the problem is trying to understand why we came up with so many bad presidents in a row, including Obama. And if you exempt Obama from it, you don’t see that part of the reason that Iraq was a catastrophe was that Obama’s decision making was as bad as Bush’s.
Vladislav: Yeah. He was extremely bad at foreign policy. I mean, whether you like his domestic policy or not, it seems to me obvious that he was extraordinarily bad, as a president, on foreign policy, and he was an isolationist. He wanted it quietly, but his instincts and Trump’s instincts were were completely aligned. As are Biden’s. The third. Yeah.
Claire: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And because we’re so polarized, we aren’t asking the right questions about why our leadership is so lousy.
Vladislav: Yeah. This is the correct mode of direction that we should be going in, not talking about whether the poor redneck hick yahoo yokels, God bless them, in flyover country who still believe in Jesus, and for their sin of still believing in Jesus and living traditional lives, are voting for horrible people. You know, that’s a very silly worldview.
Claire: Well, no one, I don’t think, seriously cares whether they believe in Jesus. They do care whether whether they elect Trump again, because Trump is a disaster for the American experiment.
Vladislav: I mean, I see that whole thing as acting out. I see voting for Donald Trump as no different from a teenager screaming at a psychotherapist in the middle of the session. That’s acting out.
Claire: Yeah, but the psychotherapist doesn’t have nuclear weapons.
Vladislav: Maybe yours doesn’t. Do you need a recommendation? I have a guy who has a who has his own tactical nuclear weapons. But you know, I just don’t see the looking down on normie American—for the sins of a self-indulgent and weak and cowardly and oligarchic, self-dealing, political elite—to be necessary. I just don’t. I just don’t think it’s a healthy way of of dealing with reality. You know? Donald Trump is many things, but he’s not the progenitor of all these problems. He’s just a very canny political animal and an entrepreneur who saw that you could cobble together a coalition of aggrieved people—correctly and legitimately aggrieved people—to take power. I mean, I’ve never voted for him in my entire life. But you know, this isn’t about Donald Trump. This is about the fact that this country has been radically, radically, really badly run. For a very long time.
Claire: I’m not sure I think it’s that it’s been really badly run. I think it’s been badly run because we have lost the civic virtue to put people who could run things better in those offices.
Vladislav: It’s so funny you say that, because I was reading a Maggie Thatcher biography today on the way to to the office, and this very bright writer who wrote this, this lady by the name of—do you know her, Claire Berlinski?—she writes—
Claire: I’ve heard of her. Is it any good? The book?
Vladislav: Yeah, it’s great. Well, I only read the first two chapters on the way to work, but she writes that they had lost greatness because they had lost the virtues of greatness. They’ve lost their greatness, the Brits, because they’ve given up on their good virtues. So first you give up on your virtues and then you lose your greatness, not the other way around, right? So what is it that we can do, so to speak, to make America great again?
Claire: Stop electing assholes.
Vladislav: We should stop electing assholes, but maybe the assholes are us.
Claire: And pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and stop getting—
Vladislav: Maybe the assholes are us, Claire.
Claire: Well, of course they are. They’re our representatives. That’s the point. It’s a representative democracy.
Vladislav: Clearly I don’t, by the way, agree with the virtuous and prim and very kind of throwback-to-the-’50s Senator Romney when he says the congressman from Long Island, who’s a con man, Santos, doesn’t deserve to be in in Congress. I think that’s very unkind and nasty and unrepresentative of Senator Romney. He represents his constituents. Maybe his constituents are the problem, not this con man, right? The people deserve it good and hard, a great American said. Right? Who said it?
Claire: Wasn’t it Mencken?
Vladislav: It was Mencken. Mencken did say that, yeah. The people deserve what they deserve, and they deserve it good and hard. So if these are our leaders, maybe the problem is us.
Claire: Yeah, the problem is us. That’s just true.
Vladislav: Is it?
Claire: I mean, these people are not getting into those positions by accident. We’re putting them there, over and over.
Vladislav: We’ve gone very far from where we were going to begin this discussion. What is the source of our oligarchic decay, of our democratic deficit, of our lack of virtue, of our decline in qualities and qualia. What is what is the source of it, Claire?
Claire: It’s at this point where my grandfather would have said, grumpily: “It’s kids these days taking that L-S-B.”
Vladislav: The kids these days—
Claire: Taking L-S-B.
Vladislav: I do think about the kids these days. All the time. Is it their fault, the kids these days? Are they really more narcissistic than I was at their age? I don’t know.
Claire: Yes, they are. Social media has been socially revolutionary. And it’s not for the good.
Vladislav: So things really are much worse?
Claire: Yeah, they really are. And now, we’ve just seen the beginning with AI. What’s going to come next is going to blow our minds.
Vladislav: Is it going to be bad?
Claire: I don’t know if it’s going to be bad, but it’s definitely gonna be different.
Vladislav: So is the old world—
Claire: —yeah. You are alive to see maybe like the biggest revolution in human history since—what? Well, certainly, since the advent of the nuclear weapon, and probably since the printing press. I mean, it’s just it’s going to change everything. And no one knows how, yet, but we know it’s going to change everything.
Vladislav: And we should probably prepare for it being worse than things were.
Claire: Well—I’m cautiously optimistic. I find it exhilarating. I mean, I think there’s a little bit of the revolutionary in me. I think things do need to change and this is sure going to change things.
Vladislav: Things should change, but they should also stay the same, no?
Claire: Yeah, there’s a little bit of the conservative in me, too. So I don’t know. I’m hopeful because it’s better to be hopeful than despairing.
Vladislav: I don’t. I misspent my twenties reading Adorno and all these Frankfurt school people. Why did I do that? Was it fashionable when I was growing up in the early aughts?
Claire: I think it was, or something like that.
Vladislav: I think it was. Why did I spend time reading Löwenthal, and Frankfurt School stuff. Why did I spend time on Horkheimer, and Adorno. Did it make me smarter? I mean, I read the academic stuff, the third-rate Adorno explainers published now—it doesn’t make them any smarter. They’re just regurgitating Germanic nonsense. And it it it did make me kind of, you know, misanthropic. Maybe I already was misanthropic, which is why instead of reading better books, I was reading Horkheimer and Adorno. I mean, I was reading a lot of stuff at that age. Yeah, I read the wrong books, Claire.
Claire: Yeah, I think you did. Well, we'll sort you out. Look, we should wind this up. Remember that people will have listened to this because they wanted to hear what’s going on in Ukraine, so I wonder if you have any other thoughts you want to share with them—
Vladislav: Oh, yeah. OK, look, let’s get back to Ukraine, not to our grumpy old conversation in the Marais—these Jewish intellectuals in the Marais today, things aren’t what they used to be. Senator Schumer, twenty years ago, he told me—yeah, yeah. We’re annoying, Claire, no doubt. But Ukraine is still not a lost cause. It’s still very much to be determined who’s going to win. And I have to tell you: The Russians can still pull this out.
Claire: Yeah, I know.
Vladislav: You know that, right?
Claire: Right, yes.
Vladislav: They could still pull this out. They could. They could still have a traditional victory. They could still break the back of the of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Claire: Maybe we should have started by saying that. In case anyone’s unaware of it.
Vladislav: I have spent the last weeks talking to people in Ukraine and to people in London and to policymakers everywhere, and they all asked each other the same questions, as as if anyone knows the answer. The conclusion I came to is this—being a betting man. These are the numbers. We have a 10 percent chance, on the spectrum, of a substantive Ukrainian victory, of a major Russian collapse. We have a 60 percent chance, in the middle of the spectrum, of a stalemate—which is the most likely possible outcome. Of the Ukrainian counteroffensive sputtering to a halt, Russians reconstituting the gaps in their lines, holding some territory, gaining Bakhmut, driving the Ukrainians out of certain positions in the Donbas, and there being just a kind of natural stalemate. 1917 on the Eastern Front. 1916, 1917—
Claire: Or the Iran-Iraq War.
Vladislav: You have a 15 percent chance of of a minor Russian victory, and you have a 15 percent chance of a major Russian victory. That’s how I rate the odds.
Claire: We’re running a piece today saying that this is formally not calculable. But yeah, I agree with you.
Vladislav: It is not formally calculable. There’s so many different criteria that go into into running the algorithm on who’s gonna win. It’s just really difficult. You have to multiply foreign support by morale by demographic numbers by troop numbers by artillery by the number of artillery shells fired by the—you know, just so many different things that you have to plug into an algorithm in order to get the correct number of what’s going to happen right? And it really is attritional warfare, where you have to multiply humans times time, and factor in the fact that the that the Russian economy is not collapsing and the Ukrainian economy is collapsing, and it’s on life support from Western donors. You have to factor in the fact that the Ukrainians might also run out of shells before the Russians run out of humans. You have to factor in the the fact that Putin’s gamble, which six months ago looked ridiculous—that he could outwait the West—now seems to be much, much—
Claire: And he’s been heartened by the kind of discourse we’ve heard recently. I mean—
Vladislav: Of course. He would double down. Of course he would double down because he—
Claire: And I wish people understood that. I wish Ron DeSantis understood that he is doing real harm to our interests by talking that way.
Vladislav: Well, yeah, that’s right. I mean, Putin’s not going to stop until the costs of not stopping are higher than the cost of stopping. And even if he does stop, it’s easier just to let it simmer rather than declare—why would he declare that he’s lost? He’s never going to do that, right?
Claire: Exactly. Exactly.
Vladislav: So he could keep this going on simmer for a very long time. I saw Kofman, who’s very bright, Michael Kofman, the designated driver of Ukraine war pontificating—he has excellent access to information, even though I think he did make some mistakes early early on, in overestimating the Russian army—I saw him in DC a couple of weeks ago. We had a nice breakfast and he basically told me that, yeah, we’re going to give the Ukrainians until the summer to see how far they can go and after that, if things are going badly, we’ll sue for peace quietly—by “we,” I mean the West—although the Russians are not interested in talks whatsoever at this point, they’re doubling and tripling down. And in the long term, he told me, wars that last more than one year—interstate wars between evenly or almost-evenly matched military powers that have large industrial war machines that can mobilize, and large populations—typically, those wars that last more than one year, they last more than three years. So Iraq-Iran, 1980 to 1988 is the worst-case scenario.
Vladislav: By which point Ukraine will be devastated, will spend fifty to a hundred years rebuilding, and we’re not going to have what we started with anyway. Is that a very depressing note to end on?
Claire: It is depressing, but it’s also the truth and people need to hear it. People need to hear it that if we don’t get them the weapons they need soon, like, really soon—and all of them—we’re going to have another massive defeat on our hands.
Vladislav: A massive defeat, yeah.
Claire: It will be even more dishonorable than Iraq and Afghanistan, and the consequences will be so much worse.
Vladislav: Look, whenever Ukrainians and Ukrainian MPs who pass through Paris have a night off, they they take me out to dinner. I had dinner with three different Ukrainian MPs in Paris over the last ten days, from three different parties, interestingly enough. Whenever they come to Paris for a meeting, a PACE meeting, or a meeting at the French Parliament, or Ukrainian-French Parliamentary Assembly or whatever, they take me out to dinner. And we exchange gossip and information, and it’s always very nice. And I always ask them, basically, the same set of questions, and whichever party they’re in, when they’re drunk and and their hair is down, they all give me the same answers. And I always ask them how many people are there in Ukraine. And they typically tell me, off the record, it’s now between 25 and 30 million—well, no one really has statistics, right? And I always ask them, can a society survive so many of its young people being killed? And they’ll tell me, you know, “We don’t have a manpower lack yet, but everyone who wanted to go fight is already on the front lines.” You know, you don’t have reserves of men that are excited to fight in Ukraine who are not already on the front lines. There’s already conscription-dodging going on, you know. Young men that I meet, Ukrainian young men, tell me, “I just got my—” I forgot the the word—call-up orders?
Claire: Mobilization orders.
Vladislav: Yeah. “My mobilization orders in the mail.” And I always tell them like, “I can’t tell you what to do.” But you know, they don’t want to go. The guys who want to go, they’re already up at the front, right? So at a certain point, Ukraine will have a manpower crunch. It no longer has a manpower advantage over the Russian army. So again, all very depressing. Sorry to leave you with this.
Claire: We need to do more to get people in the West to understand this.
Vladislav: What can I do? I write articles, I talk, I go on TV.
Claire: Yeah, I know, but I’m just trying to think.
Vladislav: I do what I can. Claire, tell me, what more can I do? me.
Claire: I don’t know. I’m thinking. I’m thinking.
Vladislav: Have your have your listeners call in and tell me what else I can do. Whatever they tell me to do. I will do.
Claire: Yeah, me too.
Vladislav: If I have to run through the straight streets naked, I will do it.
Claire: Let’s get Schumer on the podcast.
Vladislav: I think Senator Schumer has better things to do.
Claire: I don’t.
Claire: I don’t. I mean, he’s someone who’s got considerable amount of power and influence in Washington, and he needs to hear this.
Vladislav: From me?
Claire: From both of us.
Vladislav: I think he has, probably, if he wants it, he has good access to information.
Claire: Yeah, but he’s not hearing it. Because this would be the only thing he talked about if he understood it.
Vladislav: OK, Claire, I’m going to go and I’m going to call in all my favors and all my accumulated capital and try to get a conversation going with Senator Schumer.
Claire: All right. Sounds good. Thank you, Vlad.
Vladislav: OK. Thank you, my dear. Thank you, my good neighbor.
Claire—it’s worse than that, even. From Pew:
The share of adults who say the US is providing too much aid to Ukraine has increased 6 percentage points since last September and 19 points since shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last year, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 18-24 among 5,152 US adults.
This shift in opinion is mostly attributable to the growing share of Republicans who say the US is providing too much support to Ukraine. Today, 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents hold this view, up from 32 percent in the fall and much higher than the 9 percent who held this view in March of last year. …
Last March, Republicans and Democrats were about equally likely to say that the invasion posed a major threat to US interests (51 percent of Republicans said this, as did 50 percent of Democrats). The share of Americans who see the conflict as a major threat to US interests has declined in both parties since March 2022. Today, Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to say this (29 percent vs. 43 percent).
Carlson got to leverage his position on Fox News to reshape the Republican primary process. He got the two most likely 2024 nominees—Trump and DeSantis—to articulate their fealty to his view of the conflict. Not helpful to the United States’ established policy on Ukraine, but certainly helpful to Carlson.
Pollsters say they actually record drops in support among would-be Republican voters for more mainstream candidates, like former UN ambassador Ms. Haley, after they become targets on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Carlson has had a profound effect on how Republican candidates talk about the Russia-Ukraine issue, according to GOP operatives working on primary races. GOP offices have been fielding numerous calls from voters echoing arguments they heard on Carlson’s 8 pm ET show. Carlson has been telling his viewers there is no reason why the US should help Ukraine fight Russia. Even Democratic offices have been fielding these calls from Carlson’s viewers. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) tweeted that he got “calls from folks who say they watch Tucker Carlson and are upset that we're not siding with Russia in its threats to invade Ukraine, and who want me to support Russia’s ‘reasonable' positions.’”