Margaret O'Brien Steinfels

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.

By this author

Explain Ireland

The Second in our series: "What's happening in the Old Country?"

As I explain here, "Take That Max Weber: Learning About Ireland from a German Novelist," we are about to go off on a trip to Ireland. We have never been. Among many books, our cram course included Irish Journal by Heinrich BÖLL, a delightful and brief account of visits he made in the early '50s.

But German novelists (or sociologists) don't know everything. You all must know something too. What to make of the Irish?


Explain Poland

Way down below in a discussion of Putin, Ukraine, Russia, and authoritarianism, one of our regulars Stanley Kopacz asks what's going on in Poland. Is Poland authoritarian or is the conservative party now in power turning to authoritarian methods. Dan Bilefsky at the NYTimes (June 2, 2016) reports a critical decision by the EU on the issue of an independent judiciary:

Reactance: Yet Another Explanation!

As the media trips all over itself trying to explain the Trumpette phenom, I thought we'd about run out of theories. But Tom Edsall, one of the best political commentators on the beat, has come up with an explanation that merits some discussion.

Little Known Factoids: Making New Friends

Reading Timothy Snyder's interesting review of the Ukraine-Russia struggle in the New York Review of Books, I see this:  "On February 22, Yanukovych [then president of Ukraine] fled to Russia.

All Over but the Back-Biting

The campaign trajectory of the next seven months is looking all too clear. Donald Trump will add to his denigration of immigrants, women, politicians, Europeans, muslims, etc., vicious attacks on Hillary Clinton. He will bully, badger, lie, and make fun of her. She has promised not to reply in kind. As if she could!

Cat & Mouse / Tom & Jerry

What with all the air being sucked up by the Rise and Fall of Donald Trump, we have been distracted from the Cat and Mouse game between Russia and the United State in Europe. Trump's current hope, seemingly supporting Russian President Putin, is that NATO wraps itself up and goes home. There are many facets to the cat and mouse game: Ukraine, Crimea and sanctions against Russia; Russian maneuvers in the Baltics, Sweden, etc.; Polish hysteria and Baltic angst about Russia that have brought an increase of U.S. troops and promises of more.

Imre Kertesz, RIP

The Hungarian writer and Nobel Prize winner, Imre Kertesz has died (Thursday, March 31). His first novel, Fateless, is a strange and moving story of a boy (the boy Kertesz was) sent to a concentration camp in 1944.

Trump's Enablers

To what Rand Cooper has posted below on what Trump is doing to the Republican Party, add what he is doing to the media.

What's Putin Up To?

Vladmir Putin is seen to be the quintessential trickster. The image of the unreliable actor colors much of the criticism directed at Putin by pundits and government officials alike, and is regularly followed by a Cold War sneeze. True, his actions are usually unexpected and unexplained. True, he is not going to get an A in moral rectitude. His announcement that the Russian air force would begin to withdraw from Syria was unexpected. Initial surprise was followed by grave suspicion that this was a trick. Mr. Putin simply said that Russian goals for intervening in Syria had been met and it was time to pull back.

It is hard to read Putin, no doubt, and difficult to see where he's going. When a pundit manages to do so, it is worth a read. Paul Pillar (Assymetry in Syria and the Russian Drawdown), who writes for the National Interest and appears regularly at LobeLog, has this to say:

"The latest Russian move should not have been at all surprising. To the extent that it was, this is because of imputing to the Russians motives and thought processes that they do not exhibit.... The announced withdrawal shows that Russian objectives in Syria were never unlimited or grandiose. The objectives had to do with such things as a temporary propping up of the Assad regime to prevent it from collapsing, and asserting a Russian role in helping to determine the future of Syria....

"The Russian moves demonstrate in addition that Putin does not apply to the Syrian situation the kind of framework that many American critics of the Obama administration’s policies apply,

Obama Out of the Closet UPDATE

President Obama's foreign policy has been a puzzle to some, a source of contempt by others, and a relief to many who don't think we need another war. Now Obama explains his thinking in a long, long interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.

Obama declares himself a "realist," and cites Brent Scowcroft as a source of his foreign policy stance. Scowcroft served as national security advisor to Gerald Ford and George HW Bush. He is a retired air force general. If memory serves, he also reined in George W. in his second term.