Friday, January 2, 2015
America is Going to Have to Learn to Play Nicely......Where Have All the Statesmen Gone?
Western leaders and their unquestioning media propagandists appear to believe that diplomatic relations are some kind of reward for good behavior. But it’s actually more important to establish a constructive dialogue with your enemies or rivals than your friends, because that’s where you need to find common ground. Indeed, it’s been the basis for diplomacy since time immemorial.
Reassuringly, despite having been the target of the Ukraine crisis rather than the instigator, Putin still sees the West as a potential partner, not an enemy. Nor does, he says, Russia have any interest in building an empire of its own. In theory, if Putin is sincere, there should be plenty of room for cooperation, especially in the fight against terrorism.
As Putin said in his speech at the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi in October—whose theme was “The World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules”—he hasn’t given up on working with the West on shared risks and common goals, provided it’s based on mutual respect and an agreement not to interfere in one another’s domestic affairs.
Putin has, of course, already shown that he can rise above the fray. By negotiating the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal under international supervision, he did Obama a big favor and got him off the hook in Syria. But his collaboration with Obama went further than that. Putin had helped persuade Iran to consider making concessions on its nuclear program and was working behind the scenes on North Korean issues.
But as we’re discovering, this was precisely the sort of statesmanship that the neoconservative holdouts in Washington could simply not abide, because it would wreck the plan they’d been hatching for decades to bring about US military strikes against Assad and to move beyond sanctions and more aggressively confront Iran.
Determined to drive a wedge between Obama and Putin and punish Putin for interfering with their goal of regime change in the Middle East, these masters of chaos—like National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, and Senator John McCain—sprang into action.
These crazies first started fantasizing openly about regime change in Russia, and demonizing the “ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” before helping to topple Ukraine’s constitutionally elected government.
This is hardly the sort of behavior, to put it mildly, that would lead the Russians to trust American motives—especially after two rounds of NATO expansion in Central and Eastern Europe.
And the Russians also really don’t know what to make of the fact that one second Obama is including them on the list of the top global threats, and the next they’re being asked—yet again—to help secure a truly historical rapprochement with Iran. “It’s unseemly for a major and great power to take such a flippant approach toward its partners. When we need you, please help us, and when I want to punish you, obey me,” Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said last week.
The West has squandered the opportunity, after its victory in the Cold War, to establish a new stable system of international relations, with checks and balances, said Putin in Sochi. Instead, the US trashed the system to serve its own selfish ends and made the world a more dangerous place.
A particularly disturbing accusation Putin made is that the U.S. has been using “outright blackmail” against a number of world leaders. “It is not for nothing,” he added, “that ‘big brother’ is spending billions of dollars keeping the whole world, including its own allies, under surveillance.” If true, it would put the US beyond the pale of the civilized global diplomatic community.
Last year Putin reminded Americans, in a New York Times op-ed, that the UN was founded on the basis that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and that it’s this profound wisdom that has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades. The UN risked suffering the same fate as the League of Nations, he said, if America continued to bypass it and take military action without Security Council authorization.
What really amazes Putin—and most right-minded people—is that even after 9/11, when the US finally woke up to the common threat of Islamic terrorism and suffered the most epic blowback of all time, it continued to use various jihadist organizations as an instrument, even after getting its fingers burnt every time.
What did toppling Gaddafi achieve? Nothing, except to turn Libya into a total mess and fill it with al-Qaeda training camps. And what is Obama’s present strategy of funding “moderate” rebels in Syria going to achieve, if not more of the same mayhem, as one US-backed group after another joins forces with the Islamic State?
It’s hard to disagree with Putin that America’s neoconservatives have sown geopolitical chaos, by almost routinely meddling in others’ domestic affairs. He lists the many follies the US has committed, from the mountains of Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda had its roots in CIA-funded operations against the Russians, to Iraq and Saddam’s phantom weapons of mass destruction, to modern-day Syria, where the Islamic State appears to have benefited at least indirectly from some serious funding—and weapons smuggled out of Libya by the CIA.
Instead of searching for global solutions, the Russians think the US has started believing its own propaganda: that its policies and views represent the entire international community, even as the world becomes a multipolar one. It would appear that Putin is in good company. No less a statesman than former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger agrees with him.
Sanctions against Russia are a huge mistake, says Kissinger: “We have to remember that Russia is an important part of the international system, and therefore useful in solving all sorts of other crises, for example in the agreement on nuclear proliferation with Iran or over Syria.”
Like Putin, Kissinger argues that a new world order is urgently needed. In an interview in Der Spiegel, he adds that the West has to recognize that it should have made the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the EU a subject of a dialogue with Russia. After all, he says, Ukraine is a special case, because it was once part of Russia and its east has a large Russian population.
So how has the current generation of American leaders responded to Putin’s accusation—shared by his allies Argentina, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa—that the U.S. is riding roughshod over the interests of other nations?
By mocking him with the sort of childishness that was on display at the G20 summit, where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper grabbed headlines when he told Putin: “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” While Putin is obviously no saint, his presence at the G20 summit shows that far from being isolated, he continues to be treated as respectable company, despite his actions over Ukraine.
At least Germany and the EU now appear to understand that diplomacy, not military action, is going to resolve differences between Russia and the West—even though Russia expelled one of Germany’s diplomats in Moscow last week. Following up on the four-hour meeting Merkel had with Putin in Melbourne and the call for intensified diplomacy by the EU’s new foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now engaged in intensive shuttle diplomacy with Moscow.
The world will be better off if we all stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement, as Putin says. That’s what real statesmen would do, rather than trying to provoke Russia into a new Colder War. America is going to have to learn to play nicely. Otherwise, as Putin says, “today’s turmoil will simply serve as a prelude to the collapse of the world order.”
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