The first week of March 2014 saw the most tension between the West and Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you've gotten confused in the fluid events of the Ukraine/Crimea crisis, here's a basic overview to get you up to date.
The U-2 spy plane has been in service for nearly 60 years. Now, thanks to Pentagon budget cuts (and the advance of technology), the US fleet of U-2s may be making their final flights. Click here to check out the plane's storied past, and its pivotal role in US foreign policy.
Photo by Central Press/Getty Images
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced this week that the Pentagon is seeking $75 billion in budget cuts over the next two years. That has all kinds of implications, from retiring the U-2 to dropping the Army's manpower to pre-WWII limits.
But it might just strengthen the United States' foreign policy foundation as key nations around the world take note one of America's largest budget lines trimming its own requests.
And Hagel promises it won't adversely affect America's war-fighting abilities. (Thanks, technology.) Read more here.
Valery Kubasov died February 19, 2014, at the age of 79.
But you don't know who Valery Kubasov was, right? Or why I'm writing about him.
Kubasov certainly was not a practitioner of American foreign policy, but he was central to one of the milestone moments in relations between the US and Russia.
In July 1975, Kubasov was aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with his commander, Alexei Leonov, when they docked with an American Apollo spacecraft. Apollo-Soyuz (read about it here) marked the first time that US and Soviet space programs teamed up for a joint mission. It heralded what is now nearing 40 years of US/Russian cooperation in space.
What was so remarkable that Apollo-Soyuz occurred during the Cold War. The mission proved that if the US and Russia could put aside their differences in space -- one of their chief competitive arenas -- they could do so elsewhere. Kubasov died during the Sochi Olympics, which continued to prove that old rivals can work together.
Photo: The crew of Apollo-Soyuz (L-R), Deke Slayton, Tom Stafford (Apollo commander), Vance Brand, Alexei Leonov (Soyuz commander), and Valery Kubasov.
Photo courtesy NASA
As the EU brokered a tentative deal to end the violence in Kiev, Ukraine, one had to wander -- where's the US?
American leaders issued some of the usual comments and warnings about the violence, but it seemed that the US wanted no real leadership role in the crisis.
So, what does the US expect in Ukraine. Read here; maybe it will help.
Remember when Victoria Nuland said "F*** the EU"?
Well, the EU (European Union) is looking more relevant than the US in a deal to end violence in Kiev, Ukraine. Anti-government rioters there have been protesting a presidential move to plant Ukraine back in the Russian sphere of influence. Reports say 77 people died there in the week of February 16.
Germany, France, and Poland led the negotiations that spelled out a tentative deal on February 21.
President Obama lent support by phone, but so far it appears that the US has been rather content to let others take the lead in eastern Europe.
Photo: Anti-government protesters man a front-line barricade on February 21 following clashes with police in Independence square in Kiev, Ukraine.
Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images
If you've been watching the Sochi Olympics, you probably know that the US offered to lend some military backup to Russia's security preparations. You probably also know that one of our warships ran aground in the Black Sea as part of that mission.
Embarrassing, sure. But that's not the big story. There was a time not long ago that Americans and Russians would never think of much in the way of military cooperation.
Except when it really counted. During World War II, under the Lend-Lease program, the US produced and shipped some $11 billion in supplies, most of them military, to the Soviet Union. And that was when the Soviets were under the worst of the Communist regime dictators. Check it out here, then go back to enjoying the Olympics.
Most people knew Shirley Temple as the ultimate child star. In the 1930s, she was a more popular movie star than Clark Gable. Her bubbly, ever-optimistic, dancing and singing characters helped millions of Americans get through the grinding decade of the Great Depression.
But Temple, after her marriage to Charles Black in 1950, had a remarkable second career -- as a U.S. diplomat.
Temple, who died February 10 at age 85, served in the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, as ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia, and as chief of protocol for the State Department.
And her's were no courtesy appointments. She was good at diplomacy; she was passionate about it and professionals lauded her abilities.
Check out the story of Shirley Temple's other career here. When you think about, little Shirley's can-do, bubbly optimism was probably exactly the right quality for a diplomat to have.
Photo: Shirley Temple Black at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, 2006.
Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images Entertainment
That's Victoria Nuland in the State Department photo at right. She's the Assistant Secretary of State for Eastern Europe. And she dropped a really big F-Bomb on the EU (European Union) last week. You can read the story here.
Now, in truth, Toria (as she's often called) made her comment in a private cell-phone conversation that someone (apparently Russia) hacked and publicized.
But does it really matter? Her comment certainly didn't convey general U.S. opinions about the EU. And surely everyone knows that diplomats are masters of all kinds of language -- salty or not!
President Barack Obama's 2014 State of the Union address on January 28 was long on domestic issues, short on foreign policy. That wasn't surprising really, given that the Terror Wars are basically over and the president still has to concentrate on a reviving economy and an intransigent Congress.
And what foreign policy he did address wasn't surprising either. Expected and obligatory, yes -- surprising and dramatic, no.
Read here for a digest of Obama's main foreign policy points.