Tag Archives: Putin

The bear is loose


 

No, not the self-designated ursus in the White House, but the Kremlin’s ruler.

Having launched a program attempting to reinstate Moscow’s hegemony over the former Tsarist/Soviet Empire, Vladimir Putin now has been hoisted on his own petard.

When his naked aggression in Georgia in 2008 elicited no significant American-EU response, he followed it with his 2014 annexation of Crimea. When that produced little more than Western denunciation, he mobilized for further aggression, attempting to use the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine.

But he has now become a prisoner of his own rhetoric and aggression.

True, like the European dictators of right and left of the 1930s, he has gained wide popular support at home. But the chauvinistic reaction of the Russian public is a false flag. Shamed and humiliated by the implosion of the Soviet Union [“the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century”, Putin has said], a catastrophic declining population, a start-and-stop economy, and an enormous flight of capital, Putin has used aggressive nationalism to try to reinvigorate a failed regime with all too well remembered demagoguery.

But he is now riding a tiger. Earlier he seemed to have won in Ukraine with an administration succumbing to pressure to back away from the overwhelmingly popular demand to move closer to European Union’s prosperity. [Even relative objective polling of Russian-speakers in Ukraine show their choice is to move into the EU orbit rather than to tie their destinies to a failing Russia.] Then when a popular movement overthrew that Kyiv administration and installed a new pro-European Union executive by a democratically elected parliament, reinforced now with new elections, Putin grabbed Crimea and began to try to manipulate the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine for his program to reestablish empire.

The criminal stupidity – and how far the Russian finger was actually on the trigger would still have to be determined – of his own intelligence operatives and their following inside eastern Ukraine in bringing down an innocent passenger aircraft has jeopardized his strategy. The scandal has rocked even the most timid in the EU — perhaps even the Germans with their aggressive business interests in Russia. [Citizens of the Netherlands, so often “the swing vote” in EU decision-making, were the overwhelming majority of the victims in the downed aircraft.]

How much it was the pull of a strategy he dare not halt or the push of the reluctance of the U.S. and the EU to engage him may be irrelevant. He has now decided to go ahead full blast. However, his bluff becomes increasingly more dangerous for his hold on the Kremlin as well as for the Russians generally. His difficulties are suddenly greater because even a fragile Ukrainian regime is pressing relatively successfully on his Ukrainian puppets. So, by all documented Western accounts, his response is to pour new weaponry across the border into Ukraine, even supporting his devastated puppets with artillery fired from across the border in Russia.

It is rapidly becoming an undisguised war of Moscow against Kyiv.

That will force even the Obama Administration – under Congressional pressure – to extend more than token aid to the Ukrainians. It may even move the Europeans to bite the bullet and challenge Putin to cut off his gas sales which he needs as desperately if not more so than the EU customers.

With the Russian economy dropping into negative growth and a World Bank estimate that more than $100 billion in capital flight is projected for this year – it has already exceeded by a third last year’s total – the domestic economic scene is rapidly deteriorating. No one expects Putin’s coterie of fellow KGB siloviki to desert him. But he can only confiscate and throw into prison so many corrupt oligarchs with their bank accounts in The City of London. They have been critical support for his regime. And economic distress will eventually erode the fashionable current ultra-nationalism of the Moscow bureaucratic elite which runs the country.

So Putin ploughs ahead into trying not to dismember the post-Soviet Ukrainian state but to dominate it, if perhaps with the cooperation of a Washington Administration still trying to accommodate him. That’s based on the incredible parity with which Sec. of State John Kerry publicly continues to conceptualize relations with friend and foe [whether Ukraine and Russia or Israel and Hamas].

But with an increasingly lame duck Pres. Barack Obama, probably facing a two-house Republican Congress after November, that, too, is eroding.

It is significant that Hillary Clinton, in full candidate mode, after endorsing the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations as Obama’s secretary of state, now is publicizing her supposed differences with Obama when she was in office. She now takes a hawkish line, for example asking for U.S. arming of the Ukrainians. That, of course, is a part of her absolutely essential political gambit to distance herself from the increasingly unpopular Obama if she is, indeed, to make a successful run for the presidency. Her Sunday interview with Fareed Zakaria, who laid down a patter about the culpability of the Europeans – rather than the Obama presidency and Clinton’s failure of leadership while at the State Department, as the source of the deteriorating world scene is the foreign policy campaign line she will try to pursue. It could be no other given a poll that says 56% of the American people think Obama [and Clinton will get tagged in a campaign as his former Secretary of State] is not to be trusted on  foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the Obama-Kerry team continues to pursue its “lead from behind” catastrophic policies, pretending that there is no dire priority in the threat to U.S. national interest in the Russian aggression in the Ukraine [or for that matter, with international growing Islamic terrorism] That misapprehension of the current state of world affairs was illustrated with the incredible reporting of the Obama Administration’s current internal deliberations by The New York Times, the alter ego of the Administration. TNYT reports: “’The debate is over how much to help Ukraine without provoking Russia’”, said a senior official participating in the American discussions.”

Yes, indeed, without provoking Putin.

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The Cool War Cometh II


There is presently about as much confusion as when the U.S. entered The Cold War against the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. But there are fundamental defining differences to what is likely to be an equally long and complex new struggle between the U.S., its allies and Moscow.

The two engagements do share one commonality: American leadership now as then has been slow to face up to the task before it. It’s far too easy now to forget just how many times Josef Stalin signaled his forthcoming unrelenting war on The West before democratic statesmen understood what they faced and mobilized to meet it. [And here, mea culpa. I admit shamefacedly as a young, idealistic, naïve student I wrote a U of Mo Jay School classroom harangue [alas! printed in the Columbia Missourian] denouncing Winston Churchill’s March 1946 “Sinews of Peace” speech, at nearby Westminster College. Back from our victorious however bloody war in Europe and Asia, I was sure like most that a new era of relations among nations had begun, that the old balance of power collisions were now a thing of the past. It was then, of course, the British statesmen who whatever his numerous strategic mistakes this time with great clarity defined the issues and coined the term “iron curtain”.]

Churchill knew that the word had gone out to Communist apparatchiks worldwide that the Soviets were grasping for world domination. Even now almost every month brings more evidence of the enormous influence of their coterie in the highest echelons of Western government and among intellectuals helping to disguise and confuse the issues. Yet it was at a time when Moscow was constantly revealing its hand. Whether it was the last minute snatching of Manchuria and northern Korea and Japan’s northern islands, the usurpation of the Polish government-in-exile, Moscow’s attempt to set up a new Azeri satellite in northwest Iran, an attempted Communist coup against still “unrecognized” Indonesian nationalists, Communist exploitation of an insurrection in India’s Hyderabad [Deccan] state, the revelations of penetration of the Australian Labor Party, the attempto install Communism in Greece — Stalin was pushing the Comintern’s envelope everywhere.

Only with the dramatic resolve – and what was ultimately to be the Soviet downfall, superior American technology – following the Berlin Airlift in 1948 was there a full awakening. Washington backed off Soviet efforts to force the U.S. and its Western partners out of bifurcated Berlin. Suddenly it became crystal clear to all and sundry that the struggle was joined and would have to be resolved only by the ultimate victory of one party or the other.

Even then, Henry Kissinger’s 1969-1980 “détente” [from the French “a relaxation”] again obscured the issues for a decade. It was not until the advent of Ronald Reagan and his clear-eyed identification of “the evil empire” with his matching tactics that Communism was met again head-on and defeated – as much from its own “internal contradictions”, as the Communists would have said, as outside pressure.

Lack of that Communist ideology or for that matter any ideology characterizes the current contest. Putin’s turn to an age-old amorphous appeal to romantic Slavic “exceptionalism” opposed to Western European humanism is a weak reed. Despite Putin’s labeling the implosion of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, Communism today has no appeal beyond Pyongyang’s traditional Oriental Despotism [into which Lenin warned Soviet rule might degenerate], an increasingly nominal adherence by an ideologically rudderless China, and the kleptocracy of Vietnam.

Putin is not only bereft of ideology, the Russian leader bluffs his way from move to move. But that is not to say he is not for the moment successful. Nor is to be forgotten how often Hitler in the 1930s was bluffing, but how often the feint was successful. From his 1936 “unilateral” remilitarization of the Rhineland in defiance of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties, when he told his anxious commanders they would withdraw if France opposed them militarily, Hitler bluffed. Nor was it clear to most at the time that his domination of Czechoslovakia by gnawing at it through Sudetenland. – “protecting’ German-speaking ethnics much as Putin claims he has done in Crimea and threatens in Ukraine proper – meant he was securing the best Skoda arms for another division to strike at Poland in September 1939, initiating World War II.

Putin, of course, is not Hitler. His jerrybuilt post-Communist economy is not the war machine 19th century delivered to the Kaiser in World War I, the model which so infatuated Lenin it was his template for designing the catastrophic Soviet economic experiment. And if for no other reason, although Putin has a gigantic nuclear arsenal, Russian conventional military forces do not remotely resemble Hitler’s wehrmacht. But Hillary Clinton was correct when her speechwriters said Putin’s grab of Crimea resembled the Nazi dictator’s  repeated claims on his neighbors’ territory through provocations. This time Putin, too, masked pure and simple aggression as ethnic conflict replete with hired thugs and Russian soldiers short of their insignia. As Polish columnist Konstanty Gebert. commented, apparently only half-seriously, “… the analogies are staggering to the point that I’m asking myself whether Mr. Putin’s speechwriter didn’t intentionally model elements of the speech [formally announcing Crimea’s annexation] on the more famous predecessor.”.

Furthermore, The Economist’s Andrew Lucas is absolutely right in condemning on moral terms the Western apologists for Putin, proferring whether we would have treated a former Gestapo figure with such “understanding” had postwar Germany retreated from democracy. An interviewer on government-subsidized National Public Radio [where else?] suggests a fundamental difference Communism and the Nazis: the Kremlin did not pursue a policy of annihilating one people, the Jews. [The Crimean Tatars, 200,000 killed with forced evacuation during World War II, and more murdered when they tried to return after the Soviet implosion, might take exception to even that supposed distinction.] But that is an all too familiar rationalization of the Western left for Moscow’s actions, a Russia where there has been only the slightest fundamental grappling with the horrors of Stalinism and the tens of millions killed by the Leninist regime. It is  a very fine distinction, indeed.

Again, unlike the Soviet Union which attempted autarky except in crises when it needed a capitalist transfusion [see Sanders’ Living Off the West: Gorbachev’s Secret Agenda and Why It Will Fail, Madison Books, 1990], Boris Yeltsin and then Putin’s Russia sought integration into world markets. That is Putin’s strength and his weakness. As by far the world’s greatest exporter of natural gas and the second largest oil producer [only recently has U.S. production risen to make it No. 1], the $160 billion Moscow earned from fossil fuel exports in 2012 is the critical element in its weak economy. The shale revolution initiated by American technology, again, offers abatement in the long run of European reliance on Russian gas. If only Pres. Barack Obama would drop his war on fossil fuels and speed up U.S. pipelines, LNG installations for fleets and exports! Note the call of several Central European countries publicly since the Ukraine crisis began for just such action. Instead, as so often happens with democracies, instead of dramatic, decisive action, Obama has chosen to scale up his economic weapons, thereby giving Putin that more time to accommodate.

True, there will be a price to pay for economic warfare to rock Putin’s boat, especially by our European allies. But there is no reason – given all that he has said publicly and his blatant action in Crimea – to believe that the old secret police thug is aiming at less than an attempted restitution of a Russian empire. Already there have been hints at exploiting other Russian ethnic minorities which exist in all the former Soviet “republics” that freed themselves from Moscow’s rule in the 90s, as he has done on the Black Sea.

Those who obscure the issue by either justifying Putin’s actions with such bogus arguments as Washington’s purported failure to accord Moscow a sufficient world role after the Soviet implosion, or wishful thinking that Putin may not continue to bluff his way to new victories to bolster his rickety regime, are doing world stability and peace a great disservice. Of course, there are complexities and cross-currents. But the fact is the world again is faced with an aggressor dedicated to territorial aggrandizement. And only standing up to the bullying effectively is the answer to maintain longterm peace as NATO, the most successful alliance in history has proved.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with more contact and knowledge of Putin than other Western leaders, has said he lives in “fantasy”. That U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Minister William Hague continually assure Putin — and us – that we are in a new era, absent 19th and 20th century national conflicts, suggests others too may have stumbled into a tangentially related “fantasy”.

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Obama discovers American exceptionalism


Obama discovers American exceptionalism

            Among the welter of ironies concerning Pres. Vladimir Putin’s op-ed for The New York Times on the zig-zaggingSyria crisis is that Ras’ ghostwriter has however haphazardly touched on the fundamental issue. Given the arguments and syntax, I suspect the ghost’s first language was American, not Russian, something I will leave to future political exegesis. But one of the things this propagandist does by indirection is to identify Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s utter intellectual confusion.

There is certainly no reason why the mediocrity who now has through the vagaries of history slipped into the throne of the tsars would know. But the question of “American exceptionalism” played a role in the arguments leading up to Josef Stalin’s becoming the Soviet Union’s bloody dictator and arbiter of the powerful international Communist movement.

Before the Moscow Trials of the mid-30s when Stalin settled all political scores by reducing his enemies by a head as he once joked, when there were still convoluted arguments over international Marxism inside the Communist world, American exceptionalism was an issue. In 1929 Jay Lovestone took off for Moscow to plead his sudden dismissal as U.S. Party chairman. At a meeting of the Comintern, the supposedly independent directorate of world Communism,. Lovestone argued that Communism would not come in the U.S. through revolution. Given his independent character and living standard, Lovestone argued, the American worker was not of the European, Asian and African “proletariat” whom Karl Marx’ had promised would be “the gravediggerers of capitalism and forerunner of The Revolution”.

But Stalin was having none of it. In fact, as Lovestone told me, he barely escaped Vladimir Lenin’s self-appointed heir. Only through the assistance of the American Communist capitalist Julius Hammer, father of his more famous son Armand Hammer who with Soviet assistance became an international oil figure after World War II, Lovestone sneaked out of Russia. He came back to the U.S. to found, briefly, the American Revolutionary Communist Party. How he escaped assassination as was the fate of so many of Stalin’s enemies, even those abroad, is a bit mysterious. But decades later Lovestone went on to become collaborator with George Meany, the old plumber who headed the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Together with the infant Central Intelligence Agency, they broke the hold of Moscow’s International Federation of Trade Unions on Western European labor trade unions at the outset of The Cold War, crucial in bringing the European Social Democratic parties, particularly the West German SPD, into the anti-Communist alliance.

It is very unlikely that Putin, a quintessential Russian secret police thug, knows much of this history. He was an unknown foreign agent until Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin plucked him from obscurity to protect Yeltsin’s corrupt “Family” of hangerons when that old drunkard exited power. [Markus Wolf, lifelong legendary head of Stassi, the enormous network of informers and enforcers who kept the East German state alive in The Cold War, quipped: “If he [Putin] spent 15 years [as liaison between the Soviet NKVD/KGB and Stassi at their joint training school] in Dresden, and I didn’t know him, he couldn’t have been much”.]

In America, Lovestone’s sectarian argument was never settled over how to gain influence for the miniscule American Communist Party camouflaging their more important espionage for Moscow. The argument, like the American Communists themselves, was victim of the gyrations of the “Party line”, subservient to Moscow’s international strategy including Stalin’s brief alliance with Hitler that brought on World War II. For a short period when Stalin was “Good Old Uncle Joe” in FDR’s Washington, the essential ally against the Nazis, the American Party under Earl Browder preached gradualism. [These stories never end: Browder’s grandson now wages a bitter argument with Putin over seizure of his extensive investments in Yeltsin’s Russia and the murder of his Moscow lawyer and collaborator.]

But American exceptionalism is framed in more elegant terms as a part of the intellectual life of The Republic over its two centuries. For, singularly. unlike other nation states organized under the aegis of the Westphalian System [Treaty of 1648], the U.S. has no claim to a long history, a common race or ethnicity or even language characterizing the state. [Benjamin Franklin, horrified at the cacophony of German Anabaptist voices on the streets of Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1781 when the U.S. constitution was being framed in secret, toyed with the idea of writing in English as the official language of the new Republic.]

The U.S. was, from its outset, an ideological construct, an original — if heavily borrowing on what The Founders as children of the European Enlightenment saw as the heritage of the democracies of Greece and Republican Rome. It did not celebrate a unified cultural ethos as did France, even the “United” kingdom, and later Italy and Germany. Instead, the American Republic was and is a political concept to insure the rights and privileges of a truly multicultural people to whom, unlike the European nation states, it ultimately owed its genius and power.

That complicated concept has been from the earliest days of The Republic the essence of “American exceptionalism”, the idea that because of the formation and nature of the country, it was different from other nation states in a fundamental way. This distinction has given a sense of mission to the American Republic – not the “gloire” of France, for example, but The Republic’s obligation by its very nature to espouse a new kind of national and international morality.

From the days of its earliest religious minorities seeking tolerance in The New World, Americans have always thought themselves “special”as Puritan lawyer John Winthrop proclaimed in 1640 aboard the Arabella enroute to Massachusetts:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.

Or whether it was the Deist Thomas Jefferson, writing in the Declaration of Independence:

[A]nd accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Or Abraham Lincoln presiding over the greatest American crisis, in his famous Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Or Ronald Reagan, the 20th century statesman bidding goodbye to public life:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life…. And how stands the city on this winter night? … After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

In a sense, it does not matter whether, indeed, the U.S. were “the New Jerusalem”. More important perhaps is that American leaders throughout their history have accepted the concept that The Republic was “different” from other countries, and therefore had a mission that went beyond the simple pursuit of its existence as a nation.

It was perhaps inevitable, if there is such a thing as inevitability, that when the U.S. emerged from the near suicide of the West in two bloody world wars as the overwhelmingly most powerful country with its vast economy and population, the concept of exceptionalism would be applied to international relations. Indeed, however unsuccessfully, three generations earlier Pres. Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed U.S. entry into World War I as “the war to end all wars” and his formulation of the concept of the League of Nations to settle international disputes was part of that American “mission”.

Again, ironically, despite the fact they drew much of their inspiration from Wilson’s “progressivism”, part and parcel of Obama and his supporters’ credo in pursuit of their ambition “to transform” the nation was rejection of  “exceptionalsim”. In one of his too many casual public statements, Obama dismissed it out of hand. At the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France, in 2009, he said sarcastically:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

But on Sept. 10, only four years later, in his address to the nation on the Syrian crisis, Obama reversed that view as he floated in and out of issues:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.

In all the rapid permutations of the Syrian Crisis, it has taken [Ras] Putin’s numskull ghost writer to recognize that Obama, too, has come around to recognizing “American exceptionalism” — for better or for worse.

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Americans abroad — in the Mideast


Behind the Desert Storm

Pavel Stroilov

Price World Publishing, LLC

ISBN: 978-1932549676

$19.95, Publication date Aug.1, 2011

One cannot read this book without recalling that wonderful aphorism of Otto von Bismarck: “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.” Almost on every page is an illustration of the blundering American policymakers blabbing their way through conversations in the jungle of Mideast problems with their native interlocutors, seemingly oblivious to realities demonstrated for all to see all around them. In the short term, of course, Washington did luck out with the immediate collapse of the Sadam Hussein tyranny in The First Gulf War.

For those of us – not Orientalists but the ordinary variety of human beings – who try to follow events in the region, there are not that many totally surprising moments here. Who did not know the perfidy of Washington’s Arab allies? We knew that not only Saudi Arabia but the so-called Bathist Arab Socialist regime in Damascus joined the most extensive alliance in history for their own narrow interests – not for the love of liberty for the relatively tiny sheikhdowndom [cq] of Kuwait which had been attacked and bested quickly by Sadam. Contrary to Washington’s perennial wishful thinking – aided and abetted by the usual Sovietologist suspects in the academy who have never called a shot right yet — most of us sensed, too, that Mikhail Gorbachev was not a “reformer” but another Communist apparatchik trying to save what was left of the system on the eve of the Soviet implosion. [In all transparency, this writer whipped out a book on that hypothesis, Living Off the West: Gorbachev’s Secret Agenda and Why It Will Fail {Nov 1990}, never anticipating Gorbie would blow it so quickly!] Nor did many of us underestimate the scheming, venal, anti-Americanism of Francois Mitterand – perhaps the only politician in European history to reverse the peregrination of that old French adage, “Heartless if not a socialist at 20, headless if a socialist at 40”.

But what a young Russian “nerd”, a student/programmer who has stolen one of the most fascinating archives in recent diplomatic history, has given us is documentation for all those old assumptions – and much more. This observer, for example, never had any doubts about Jimmy Baker’s fierce anti-Israel monomania verging on anti-semitism. But I had always assumed we were dealing with a hard-nosed, clever by half as the British would say, cynical manipulator who knew from where the world’s oil supply was coming. Instead, what is revealed in these pages, is a total amateur, buying into every trap Moscow, Paris, Baghdad and London, can lay for him, sometimes to be saved, by of all people, Brent Scowcroft, a fellow traveler in most of his prejudices.

Washington finally lucks out, Bismarckian fashion, apparently, mostly because having – as Joe Alsop used to say – marched up the hill with flags flying, drums rolling and trumpets flaring, pulling together the most sophisticated fighting machine the world has ever seen [as noted repeatedly by the Chinese Communists], there was nothing to do but use it to break Sadam.

Stroilov lays all this out with several footnotes and documents text on every page. We are told that as a student he worked on papers Gorbachev was withdrawing from state, KGB and other Soviet files. Gorbachev, who comes through these pages, too, as a pigmy who never got through Machiavelli 101, apparently intended to use them to prove that he was a martyred political genius, defeated by the likes of that ruffiian and drunk Boris Yeltsin and the evil intent of the U.S. But, Stroilov says, Gorbie decided after a few leaks that there should be no further releases – perhaps sensing they would prove the opposite.

Meanwhile, Stroilov says, under the sponsorship of the noted dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky, and the former KGB operator, Alexander Litvinenko whom Russian émigré circles believe Vladimir Putin had murdered in London with radioisotopes, he smuggled the whole lot out of Russia. If –and some intelligence mavim in Washington are prepared to to believe his story, his bonafides, and the integrity of his 50,000 documents — he is going to tell what really happened in the waning days of the Soviet empire, there should be much, much more to come as we saw in a recent Der Spiegel lifting germane German material

Regrettably, the book, itself, is less than its parts, mainly because Stroilov – and one feels for him – cannot contain his anger, his contempt and his sarcasm for most of the leading characters, not least the Soviet players. The narrative leaves out too much for those of us who are not Sovietologists, but pounds too many obvious points too many times too heavily. The epilogue – a cri de coeur for Western democrats not to repeat the follies of Iraq, Act I and II, but to support the intent of “the Arab Spring” – is no less naïve than the players he describes. He, like the rest of us, has no hard solutions for the intractable problems of Arab/Muslim society, not least a rambunctious youth bulge seeking jobs as much as new free societies, perhaps too ready to accept the totalitarian temptation of Islamic fundamentalism.

— Sol W Sanders

A version of this book review appeared in The Washington Times, Friday, Sept. 9, 2011

No reset, no restart — no deal with Moscow


“Reset” is the trendy way the Obama Administration describes its Russian efforts. In his “comprehensive” approach, Mr. Obama reversed Condoleeza Rice’s foreign policy haiku ending with “neglect Russia”. Instead of that virtualization, the Obama Administration has gone crashing ahead trying to set up a new relationship with an extremely fragile Moscow regime.

Mr. Obama’s charm offensive hasn’t gone any place for the simple reason Russia is an old, wounded wolf, armed with the fangs of an ageing nuclear arsenal, but with the stench of death. Falling longevity among men, alcoholism, HIV-AIDS, etc., and a nonreplacement birthrate could cut Russia’s 150 million by 20 million in the next 20 years.

Any IT nerd could have told Secretary Hillary Clinton if you push the reset button, and it doesn’t work, you have to start looking for a new motherboard, power supply, video card, or memory. Maybe memory is key given our long Cold War history.

It’s true Mr. Obama’s interlocutor Vladimir Putin’s popularity appears high [probably higher than Mr. Obama’s]. But it’s explained by the old Russian lament, “If the Tsar only knew …”, protecting Kremlin rulers as Ras clambered back into an authoritarian state.

In a bid to set up a Barry-Vlad relationship, Mr. Obama quickly canceled painfully negotiated agreements with the Poles and Czechs of anti-ICBM deployments. Defense Sec. Robert Gates guarantees a more effective shorter range substitute. But mid-January Iranian space flights are not very reassuring as they presage Tehran ICBMs.

If the Central European abandonment was supposed to produce Russia’s help in halting the mullahs’ nukes, it hasn’t. For the moment, Moscow hides behind Beijing’s opposition to stringent sanctions. And the Kremlin just announced it won’t cut off missiles technology which [along with Chinese and North Korean transfers] fuels the mullahs’ program. Furthermore, Moscow’s is huffing because Washington also needs Romania for the new deployment, treading where the Russians believe they deserve hegemony. And for the new program Washington has had to hustle anti-misile defenses in the Persian Gulf oil sheikhdoms, objects of growing Iranian bellicosity — and seduction.

Picking up on every president since the Soviets got the hydrogen bomb, Mr. Obama reportedly is about to conclude a new strategic arms agreement. That’s seen as incremental progress toward the old vision of a nuclear-free world. Professions of that blessed future got Mr. Obama to Oslo. Truth is the Russians, despite their propaganda, will accept the deal with alacrity because it only confirms the erosion of their weaponry but commits the U.S. to cutbacks. [Moscow’s newest ICBM keeps failing tests, threatening overall Russian strategy.] Perhaps that’s a draw; Mr. Obama apparently intends to refit our nuclear warheads, a controversial but necessary maintenance.

Efforts, generally, to woo the Russians back into the post-Soviet implosion era of good-feeling isn’t on line. All observers – not just those tacky meaningless polls – report Russian anti-Americanism skyrocketing, despite Mr. Obama’s worldwide mea culpas. Tattered negotiations to get Moscow into the World Trade Organization have stymied over issues the Bush Administration couldn’t budge. Beleaguered Special Trade Rep. Ron Kirk’s office doesn’t want to talk about it.  The Russians have even threatened $800 million in American chicken imports, one of the few trade deals going.

The agreement to help Washington out in Afghanistan by transiting non-lethal cargo because of Pakistan’s deterioration has stymied. Mr. Putin’s efforts to thwart U.S. bases in the Stans have failed. But Vice Pres. Cheney’s “southern energy corridor” to move Central Asian fossil fuels to markets through Turkey, with lower world recession demand is further sabotaged with Russian counter-initiatives and Ankara’s growing love affair with Moscow.

But even with the oil price creeping back up, Moscow’s mainstay economic prop is troubled. The gas monopoly Gazprom is creaking. Intrigue to control European markets has drained resources from poorly maintained pipelines, away from new prospecting. Were there weather or some other emergency, it’s doubtful Moscow could meet West European commitments. Going for East Asia markets – including extended negotiations with Beijing – has soured. Mr. Putin’s confiscation of European and Japanese Sakhalin equities has the majors thinking twice about lending capital and technology essential for the next oil and gas push in the Far East and the Arctic.

Minor political rebellions at both ends of the Federation – in the Maritime Provinces and in the Kaliningrad enclave – are symptomatic of what could develop into another implosion. Internal democratic forces have been squelched. But Russia’s large Muslim minority is increasingly restive. Mr. Putin’s Georgian aggression last summer, setting up two new Potemkin states, has only aggravated the running sore on his southern flank. Not only has Chechnya not been pacified, but terrorism is spreading to neighboring “republics”. Attempts to organize a state Muslim organization to match the compliant Orthodox Church has come a cropper. There is new Moscow-Muslim Tatarstan tension. [Lenin can’t go home again.].

Still, Russian bombast and Mr. Putin’s macho photographs seem to have mesmerized Washington. Never mind if the computer has hanged.

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