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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

U.S. rejects Putin’s attempted reverse-Clausewitz. (I’ll explain.)

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1943, Lech Walesa, the shipyard electrician who would lead the Solidarity labor movement in Poland and ultimately end Communist rule in his country, was born.

The big idea

Putin's illegitimate referenda are war with other means

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Potemkin referendums in eastern Ukraine, bringing four regions closer to illegitimate absorption by Russia, amount to a kind of reverse-Clausewitz effort to substitute a political process for a battlefield offensive that has gone decidedly poorly for him.

Time will tell whether it works for Putin, but what he heard from the White House briefing room on Wednesday — promises of even more military aid for Ukraine, support for Kyiv to fight on regardless of the staged results, new sanctions on Russia — can’t have cheered him.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Remember Carl von Clausewitz? The Prussian general whose much-quoted and sometimes-read philosophy of war is regularly reduced to the idea that war is the pursuit of politics “with other means”? (Namely: Force.)

Can’t get what you want through the political process, negotiations, peaceful means? Well, have you considered using military force? (I’m oversimplifying Clausewitz and fully expect a number of .edu or .mil address-holders to complain. But I’m writing for a general audience.)

Using politics to wage war

Anyway, Putin’s war in Ukraine has been going badly for Russia. Ukrainians, armed and equipped by the United States and its allies, have been pushing back Moscow’s troops, whose logistical and battlefield performances have wrecked their image as an irresistible fighting force.

So Putin has embraced a three-pronged escalation: Announce he’s mobilizing up to 300,000 Russians to fight (it’s not going well); warn, again, that he reserves the right to use nuclear weapons; and stage referendums to set the table for Russia to absorb large parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. (It’s not clear as I type this whether the Kremlin is behind the explosions that wrecked the Nord Stream pipelines that carry gas into Europe. In a statement on Thursday, NATO said the damage appeared to be “the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage” and warned of “a united and determined response” if that proves to have been the case. It did not directly blame Russia.)

  • That last one is the reverse Clausewitz: Putin is using politics to wage war with other means.

The Kremlin’s plan appears to be to annex Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, declare them part of Mother Russia as early as this week, then warn Ukraine (and its friends) Moscow will defend what it now considers its territory will all necessary means, including nukes.

My colleague Robyn Dixon reported Putin on Friday will sign what the Kremlin calls “accession treaties” to seize the four regions “even though Russia does not fully control them militarily or politically.” Russian state TV is reportedly running a countdown clock.

It’s a variation on an approach Putin has successfully used twice in the past. In 2014, his forces overran Ukraine’s Crimea region, then annexed it. In 2008, his troops overran part of Georgia, then helped pro-Moscow enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia declare independence.

But in both of those cases, Russia was acting from a position of strength on the battlefield, effectively dictating terms to far weaker powers with much less international support. This time, Putin’s gambit comes as Ukrainian forces, with U.S. and allied backing, are inflicting considerable damage on the invaders.

White House ain’t buying Putin gambit

At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre served notice that the United States would not be intimidated into halting arms shipments and other aid or into pressuring Ukraine to stop or slow its advance.

“Ukraine has every right to continue to fight for their full sovereignty,” she told reporters at her daily briefing. “We will continue to stand with Ukraine as they defend their territory and sovereignty as we have been doing for the past several months.”

  • “We will work with our allies and partners to impose additional economic costs on Russia and individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia that provide support to this action,” Jean-Pierre said.

And the Pentagon announced a new $1.1 billion package of weapons and materiel for Kyiv, including 18 additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which have enhanced the range and accuracy of Ukraine’s long-distance strikes on Russian targets.

(Ukraine already has 16 HIMARS. The newest batch won’t roll off the assembly line for “a few years,” a U.S. defense official told reporters in a briefing conducted on the condition of anonymity.)

A Pentagon fact sheet said the latest military assistance also included 150 Humvees, 150 tactical vehicles, explosive ordnance disposal equipment, body armor and an array of tactical secure communications systems, surveillance systems and optics.

It also included 20 multi-mission radars “that can track airborne objects and threats, including mortar and artillery fire, along with enemy unmanned aerial systems,” the Pentagon said.

It certainly doesn’t seem like Putin’s ploy has worked.

And the Russian leader might consider the words of another great thinker, Mark Twain, who warned on the subject of war: “There has never been a just one, never an honorable one — on the part of the instigator of the war.”

What’s happening now

Ginni Thomas appears for Jan. 6 committee interview

Virginia Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, appeared for an interview Thursday with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol,” Jacqueline Alemany reports.

Johns Hopkins doctor and spouse, an Army doctor, indicted for trying to leak medical information to Russia

“A Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist and her spouse, a doctor and major in the U.S. Army, were federally indicted for attempting to provide medical information about members of the military to the Russian government,” the Baltimore Banner's Justin Fenton reports.

Harris visits DMZ after North Korean missile tests

Vice President Harris toured the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on Thursday, becoming the most senior Biden administration official to inspect the demarcation line during a four-day trip to Asia that has been dominated by Indo-Pacific security concerns,” Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report.

Hurricane watch

Ian has brought ‘historic’ damage to Florida, DeSantis says

The storm is projected to bring potentially ‘life-threatening’ floods, storm surge and winds to parts of Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina as it makes its way toward northeast Florida and then approaches the South Carolina coast on Friday,” Jason Samenow, Kelly Kasulis Cho and Annabelle Timsit report.

Follow our live coverage of the storm here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Supreme Court, dogged by questions of legitimacy, is ready to resume

Polls show public approval of the court plummeted to historic lows — with a record number of respondents saying the court is too conservative — after the right wing of the court overturned Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of a constitutional right to abortion. President Biden is trying to put the court in the political spotlight, hoping the abortion decision’s shock waves rocked the foundation of this fall’s midterm elections, once thought to be a boon to Republicans,” Robert Barnes reports.

“And the justices themselves are openly debating what the court’s rightward turn has meant for its institutional integrity.”

  • Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. defends his conservative colleagues, with whom he does not always agree, saying unpopular decisions should not call the court’s legitimacy into question.”
  • “On the other side, liberal Justice Elena Kagan increasingly is sounding an alarm about the next precedents that could fall and the implications for public perception of the bench.”

A battle over Title IX: Can it be used to exclude trans athletes?

“On Thursday, a federal appellate court will hear arguments concerning the rights of transgender student-athletes. But unlike most other legal challenges, the plaintiffs aren’t trans people suing to have their rights recognized,” Anne Branigin reports.

Instead, a group of young cisgender women, represented by the Christian conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, is arguing that allowing trans athletes to compete on sports teams that align with their gender identity violates the rights of cis women.”

… and beyond

America’s throwaway spies: How the CIA failed Iranian informants in its secret war with Tehran

Rather than betrayal, [Gholamreza Hosseini] was the victim of CIA negligence, a year-long Reuters investigation into the agency’s handling of its informants found. A faulty CIA covert communications system made it easy for Iranian intelligence to identify and capture him. Jailed for nearly a decade and speaking out for the first time, Hosseini said he never heard from the agency again, even after he was released in 2019,” Reuters Joel Schectman and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin report.

“Hosseini’s experience of sloppy handling and abandonment was not unique. In interviews with six Iranian former CIA informants, Reuters found that the agency was careless in other ways amid its intense drive to gather intelligence in Iran, putting in peril those risking their lives to help the United States.”

IG identifies ‘concerns’ with Defense Department phone messaging apps in probe of missing Jan. 6 texts

“The Defense Department’s inspector general said in a letter to Congress this week that his office has identified ‘concerns’ with the department’s use of phone messaging apps that were related to calls for an investigation into the department’s failure to preserve texts from January 6, 2021,” CNN's Tierney Sneed reports.

The Biden agenda

U.S. urges China to resume talks ended after Pelosi went to Taiwan

“The US’s top envoy to China called on the nation to reopen dialogues it halted after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan almost two months ago, as Washington tries to get ties back on track,” Bloomberg News' Rebecca Choong Wilkins reports.

Senators press administration why Russian sanctions haven't had more impact

“Unprecedented sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine have wounded — but not crippled — the country, prompting bipartisan frustration in Congress that they haven’t packed a bigger punch,” USA Today's Maureen Groppe reports.

“Pressed on that issue at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, Biden administration officials urged lawmakers to give the sanctions more time while also promising additional actions are in the works.”

White House hosts first Pacific islands summit as China makes inroads

The high-level wooing — including meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — coincides with the unveiling of the first Pacific island strategy that is aimed at addressing the nations’ top concerns. Those include climate change, recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, illegal fishing and technology investments,” Ellen Nakashima reports.

How millions of people have moved into Hurricane Ian’s path, visualized

“Florida’s allure has been a constant for generations. But recent decades have brought more transplants — and more development — than ever. In few places is that more apparent than along the swath of coastline facing disastrous impacts from Ian, from the Tampa Bay area south to Fort Myers and Naples,” Simon Ducroquet, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens report.

Hot on the left

Katie Porter’s volunteer army hits the doors

Porter has become a Democratic media sensation over the past few years,” David Dayen writes for the American Prospect. “What’s more, she did it as a frontliner, Washington’s name for House Democrats in swing seats whose electoral outcomes typically determine which party controls the chamber. Where frontliners often aim for the most inoffensive, bland position possible on any issue, pandering either to an imagined fussy median voter or to the donor class, Porter’s more unyielding stances are what she believes gives her broad buy-in with a divided electorate.”

Hot on the right

As storm hits, DeSantis pauses political bomb-throwing

“As Hurricane Ian threatens to inflict significant damage across Florida, Mr. DeSantis must rely on assistance from the same federal government whose public health guidance he has ridiculed during the pandemic. Beyond that, he must work with the very president he has castigated and may soon run to replace,” the New York Times' Reid J. Epstein and Alan Rappeport report.

Today in Washington

Biden will return to the White House at 1:15 p.m. after getting a briefing on Hurricane Ian at the FEMA headquarters. 

At 2:40 p.m., Biden will leave the White House for the State Department, where he will host the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit. He will return to the White House at 5:20 p.m.

Biden will host the summit participants at the White House for a photo and dinner at 6:40 p.m.

In closing

AI can now create any image in seconds, bringing wonder and danger

“Since the research lab OpenAI debuted the latest version of DALL-E in April, the AI has dazzled the public, attracting digital artists, graphic designers, early adopters, and anyone in search of online distraction,” Nitasha Tiku reports.

“Five months later, 1.5 million users are generating 2 million images a day. On Wednesday, OpenAI said it removed its waitlist for DALL-E, giving anyone immediate access.”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.