But whether people see what’s happening in Ukraine, and Russia’s aggression towards its neighbors in the manner in which it’s financing and arming separatists; to what’s happened in Syria – the devastation that [President Bashar al-]Assad has wrought on his own people; to the failure in Iraq for Sunni and Shia and Kurd to compromise – although we’re trying to see if we can put together a government that actually can function; to ongoing terrorist threats; to what’s happening in Israel and Gaza – part of peoples’ concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn’t holding and we’re not quite yet to where we need to be in terms of a new order that’s based on a set of different principles, that’s based on a sense of common humanity, that’s based on economies that work for all people. – President Barack Obama
Looks like US President Barack Obama made a royal mess of what his mentor Dr Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski taught him.
Dr Zbig always quotes Sir Halford John Mackinder’s three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy; to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals; to keep tributaries pliant and protected; and to keep the barbarians from coming together.
After dabbling briefly with “leading from behind” – a non-starter – Obama finally went Mackinderesque with his stellar “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine.
Nevertheless, an always alert former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said “Don’t do Stupid Stuff” isn’t a “foreign policy organizing principle”. Yet “Stupid Stuff” is all that the Obama foreign policy team knows how to do.
Starting with Obama treating Russia under President Vladimir Putin the way Hillary’s husband treated Russia under vodka container Boris Yeltsin. Then came the decision – without any public debate – to start bombing Iraq all over again. And soon Syria. Bombs Away in Syraq!
So “protect” Yazidis, yes. Protect Gazans, no. “Protect” Kiev’s bunch of neo-Nazis, fascists and shady oligarchs, yes. Protect Russophones in Eastern Ukraine, no.
It all started with protecting Irbil – already protected by Sumerian goddess Ishtar for millennia. Then protecting Irbil and Baghdad. Then protecting all “strategic” sites in Iraq.
Retired General Carter Ham of AFRICOM/”We came, we saw, he died” fame, was adamant that it will be “very difficult” to pull off so much protecting with only a few fighter jets. So drones will be needed. And troops on the ground.
From protecting ExxonMobil and Chevron to double bombing in Syraq. No wonder the Return of the Living (Neo-Con) Dead are so excited. It’s the Greater Middle East all over again. And guess who will be part of the coalition of the willing to fight the Caliph? Britain, Australia, Turkey, Jordan and Gulf Cooperation Council stalwarts Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Almost the same bunch (five among seven) that enabled the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the first place, from “Assad must go” to “good” and “bad” jihadis, and finally to ISIS (now the Islamic State) configured as the sprawling abode – complete with flush private army – of Caliph Ibrahim.
And no, there’s no strategy. Hee haw!
Bye bye petrodollar
Back to the Mackinderesque Dr Zbig. Some vassals – the usual NATO/GCC suspects, but not all of them – may still believe they profit from “security dependence”, while others remain nervously pliant and, in theory, feel “protected” by the Empire of Chaos.
But then the Empire of Chaos “encouraged” a de facto coup. And gave the green light for the new Kiev mob to do in Eastern Ukraine roughly what Israel does in Gaza. The idea in Ukraine was to bog down Russia in its western borderlands and cut off the economic/trade link between Russia and Germany. Cut Eurasia in half.
But then Obama launched a Cold War 2.0 that could easily turn hot. He destroyed the relationship with chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany and amplified the strategic embrace between the Bear and the Dragon, with the result that Beijing started paying less attention to the “pivoting to Asia” because now it enjoys even more backing from Moscow. Meanwhile, Moscow further stalls Washington’s advances in Central Asia.
Sanctions on Russia not only reinforce its internal market but also boost its foreign trade – way beyond European shores. Yet still it was not enough to totally sell out to Wall Street and totally wreck US foreign policy. With aides/advisors like National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who needs enemies?
Obama’s sanctions hysteria is leading the way to the progressive end of the US dollar as reserve currency, and the end of the petrodollar.
Witness this – the most important news of these last few months after the Russia-China “gas deal of the century”.
Obama is accelerating the now uncontrolled collapse of the Empire of Chaos. The new axis of the future – Beijing, Moscow, Berlin – is slowly but surely coming together. There’s nothing “barbarian” about them. And the bulk of the Global South supports them.
“The old order isn’t holding” – indeed. “The Caliph is evil. So I’m applying more sanctions on Russia.” How’s that for Empire management? Good boy. Now pivot. With yourself. And with no strategy.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Copyright 2014 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
Fonte: Asia Times
Publicado em 17/03/2014
US President Barack Obama has ordered that sanctions be applied against 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, the White House said. Earlier, the EU imposed sanctions against 21 officials after Crimea declared its independence. READ MORE: http://on.rt.com/al3dzv
Democrats and Republicans are at each other’s throats most of the time. There are many reasons why. Fundamental philosophical or ideological differences are not among them.
This is not the accepted view. The conventional wisdom has it that they adhere to different philosophies — that Democrats are liberals and Republicans are conservatives. Maybe something like that was more or less true once upon a time. Nowadays, the contention rings hollow.
For one thing, it gives Democrats and Republicans too much credit. It also insults liberalism and conservatism.
Lately, the idea that Vladimir Putin is one of the “bad guys” has also become conventional wisdom; on this, Democrats and Republicans agree. This is remarkable — not just because it is their custom to disagree, but also because it wasn’t long ago that the opposite was the case.
George W. Bush looked Vladimir Putin in the eye, beheld his soul, and saw that it was good. Only unreconstructed Cold Warriors gainsaid him. Now Hillary Clinton, echoing the media consensus, likens Putin to Hitler. As every kindergartener knows, this is shorthand for evil incarnate.
On this, she speaks for the entire political establishment.
However real liberals and conservatives have no reason to demonize Russia’s leader. Liberals should welcome him in under their capacious tent. Conservatives should embrace him.
Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans demonize him.
Since philosophical differences don’t explain this, there must be some other reason. Could it be because Russia is the country Putin leads?
Neither Americans nor Europeans are genetically anti-Russian, and neither are they disposed to denigrate Russian culture. But their political and economic elites are sensitive to any and all suggestions that the economic system from which they benefit is not, as it were, a blessing unto the nations.
This makes Russia a problem for them inasmuch as, even today, the conventional wisdom has it that Russia’s relation to capitalism is problematic.
Ironically, conservatism’s is too. Liberalism’s is not.
Indeed, liberalism has been joined to capitalism from Day One.
Intimations of both emerged in the Netherlands and England as early as the sixteenth century, and the two developed almost in tandem — joined, before long, by capitalist centers in Western Europe and North America.
Early liberalism was, in effect, capitalism’s justifying theory.
Political philosophers have been advancing views of what liberalism is ever since, and liberal politics has assumed a wide variety of forms.
Still, in all its varieties, there is a common core. As the name suggests, it has to do with liberty or freedom. More precisely, it has to do with distinctively liberal views of this core value.
The conception of liberty to which liberals are most wedded, historically and conceptually, is individualistic and negative; individuals are free to the extent that they are free from coercive interferences.
This understanding sometimes melded into more positive conceptions, according to which individuals are free to the extent that they are able to do the things they want to do, and it has lately been joined to less individualistic understandings derived from seventeenth and eighteenth century (small-r) republican political theory.
The idea has also lent itself to a wide range of philosophical elaborations, bearing on notions of equality and justice and on other deep problems of moral philosophy.
But as a political doctrine, liberalism’s underlying emphases have remained fairly steady over the years: its focus is and always has been to minimize coercive, state interferences.
Liberalism is therefore a theory of limited government. In earlier times, it opposed absolutist theories according to which the sovereign’s power is in principle unlimited. It won that battle long ago.
It is therefore fair to say that except for a handful of unreconstructed devotees of defunct illiberal ideologies, everyone is a liberal nowadays. Conservatives are liberals too.
In common parlance, illiberalism and “dictatorship” are sometimes conflated. This is understandable, but it can also be misleading.
There are regimes in weak or failed states that have dictatorial characteristics, and there are political leaders who sometimes act “dictatorially.”
That is how our media now portray Vladimir Putin. And it is how some Tea Partiers, exceptionally deluded ones, portray Barack Obama.
But regardless of the merit of these charges, the fact remains: where the sovereign’s power is restricted by enforceable laws, liberalism is all there is. This holds for the United States, and it holds for Russia as well.
The first liberals were mainly concerned with commerce; their goal was to substitute the invisible hand of the market for the visible hand of the state, and to replace feudal property relations with a private property regime.
Liberalism’s old mercantile and feudal enemies are gone, but its doctrinal commitments remain.
“Libertarians” continue to echo positions taken by the first liberals; their faith in free markets and private property is unbounded. Conventional wisdom places them in the conservative camp but, in reality, they are as liberals can be.
Mainstream liberals are less doctrinaire or, as conventional wisdom has it, more “pragmatic.”
That word too has philosophical roots that bear only a vague relation to how it is used in our political culture. There, “pragmatic” just means “open-minded” or “flexible.”
In that sense, mainstream liberals generally are pragmatic. Within the broad limits set by their overriding commitment to liberal principles, they are fine with whatever works.
Partly for this reason, they are not interested in promoting classical liberal economic doctrines. A more important reason is that their main concerns are not economic at all.
They are advocates of tolerance, and all it implies.
This focus is hardly new. It predates the French and American Revolutions.
Many factors combined to turn liberalism into a philosophy of tolerance. The devastation brought on by the wars of religion that followed the Protestant Reformation was perhaps the most important.
The shift in emphasis has been so profound and its consequences so far-reaching that hardly anyone these days, outside libertarian circles, still thinks that economic and political liberties comprise a seamless web.
Indeed, mainstream liberals generally favor regulated markets and restrictions on property rights. But, for them, these are only secondary concerns. Their main interest lies in defending such rights and liberties as are elaborated in, say, the American Constitution’s Bill of Rights and in The Declaration of the Rights of Man.
If only to make their lives easier, political officials are constantly tempted to run roughshod over these protections. But where the rule of law is maintained, there are limits to how far they can go. This is true in Russia, it is true throughout the EU, and it is true in the United States as well.
Is Putin qualitatively worse than ordinary leaders of liberal states? Is he worse than Obama? The answer is of course, or so we are told.
After all, how could a graduate of the Harvard Law School and a teacher of Constitutional law at the University of Chicago be less liberal than a former official of the KGB?
But when the final reckoning comes, the obvious answer may not seem obvious anymore.
What has Putin done that is worse, from a liberal point of view, than putting the entire planet under 24/7 surveillance? Has he ordered assassinations without any semblance of due process, the way Obama has? Has he deported some two million people? Has he protected kidnappers and torturers?
And then there is the Edward Snowden question, where the views of Obama et. al. on transparency and press freedom stand revealed, and where Putin has been on the side of the angels.
It is almost axiomatic that free expression is better protected in Obama’s America than in Russia today. But is it true? Compare America’s corporate media with RT (Russia Today) TV, the television service now derided as Putin’s propaganda network.
The level of commentary and analysis on RT is far superior, and the diversity of views is greater. If that is what a propaganda network is like, then bring it on.
Putin is said to be violating international law in the Crimea. This is surely a mark against his liberalism because support for the rule of law is central to liberal politics.
But, in this too, is he worse than Obama? At least he is not a serial offender.
Of course, Democrats are notoriously spineless, and also reluctant to stand up for liberal values when one of their own is in the White House. So when the call goes out to demonize, they demonize. No surprise there.
Were they better liberals, though, they would surely resist the call. They might not be on Putin’s side in the Crimea, but they would have to regard him, at worst, as one of their own; one who has gone astray. They would regard Obama that way too.
Then there are the conservatives.
At its most fundamental level, conservatism is a frame of mind that accords a high priority to conserving things as they are. In much the way that liberals accord pride of place to the absence of state interference, conservatives value stability and order above all.
They are therefore change-averse, and they are especially loath to tamper with fundamental institutional arrangements. Change is disruptive; the more radical the change, the more disruptive it is likely to be.
No doubt, this temperament is more widespread in Republican than Democratic ranks.
But as a full-fledged political philosophy, conservatism hardly exists in our political culture. How could it when what we have to conserve is inherently destabilizing!
Since the dawn of the Christian era, conservative thinkers throughout Christendom have drawn upon theological notions, like the doctrine of Original Sin, that imply support for institutions that maintain order through political and moral coercion.
Because many of the first settlers in British North America were religious refugees, this strain of conservative thought has been a presence on the American scene from the time the first Europeans arrived. But the situation evolved, and pre-Enlightened ways of thinking waned.
Indeed, the republic established in the aftermath of our War of Independence was liberal from birth, and its founding principles were those of the Enlightenment.
This is one reason why strains of thought that have anti-liberal implications have had a hard time taking hold. Another is that we have no feudal past and therefore no historical memory of non-capitalist ways of life that enhance stability and order.
Capitalism, after all, is a revolutionary economic system; it overthrows and reconstructs everything it encounters. As The Communist Manifesto famously proclaimed, under its aegis, “all that is solid melts into air.”
Conservatives today, real ones, live in capitalist societies and therefore accommodate to its destabilizing consequences. But the tension can never be entirely overcome.
This is why our conservatives are, at best, only risible facsimiles of the genuine article.
Nevertheless, nearly all Republicans and alarmingly many Democrats call themselves “conservatives.”
They are not entirely wrong because there is at least one characteristic of authentic conservatism that they share with the real deal.
Contemporary conservatives are liberals; everyone is. But liberals on the self-identified liberal side of the liberal consensus, the ones who take tolerance more seriously than what the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick called “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” typically want the state to be as neutral as possible — not just towards competing religions and ways of life but towards all conceptions of the good that are in any way contentious.
For them, the state’s role is not to promote particular conceptions of the good, but rather to treat competing conceptions fairly.
Conservatives, on the other hand, genuine ones, are still true, or true as they still can be in modern pluralistic societies, to particular conceptions of the good; conceptions that accord with their underlying philosophical commitments.
Liberals have conceptions of the good too, of course; but they regard them as matters of individual conscience only. Conservatives are inclined to want to use state power to promote the conceptions they favor.
Our self-styled conservatives are like them in this respect.
But is this not what Putin is accused of by those who call him a dictator? And, for that matter, are not the conceptions of the good that Putin is charged with wanting to promote basically the same as the ones his demonizers uphold?
To hear Republicans and Democrats tell it, Putin is running the show for reactionary Russian clerics – either for opportunistic reasons or because he believes their gobbledegook or both. But why is that a problem for American politicians, especially for the self-styled conservatives among them? Apart from theological niceties of no political significance, our home grown theocrats are on the same page.
Real conservatives should therefore embrace Putin, not vilify him; and not just for his purported pre-Enlightenment sympathies.
Being pessimists about human nature, real conservatives tend to favor authoritarian political styles and hardheaded, realist diplomacy. They like strong leaders, and despise floundering, clueless moralizers – like the ones now making foreign policy in the United States.
They have a point: liberal internationalists – humanitarian interventionists especially – are more dangerous.
But, then, why demonize Putin for being the kind of leader real conservatives admire?
It was telling that one of the less fatuous attendees at the recently concluded Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington effectively, though grudgingly, agreed.
Rudolph Giuliani took his turn disparaging Obama by praising Putin’s leadership. Instead of muddling along like Obama from one situation to another, Putin, Giuliani pointed out, knows where he is going.
Like other great conservative leaders of the past – Charles de Gaulle comes immediately to mind – Putin approaches politics and diplomacy like a game of chess, envisioning the larger situation and anticipating the right move several steps ahead.
And so, when it suits his purpose, he will bail Obama out, as he did when he had backed himself into a corner from which, without Putin’s intervention, he would have gotten the United States bogged down in Syria’s civil war – to the detriment of everyone involved.
Or, when doing so is in his interest, he can prevail over the American president, notwithstanding the fact that the United States has a stronger hand to play.
Under the true conservative tent, there is evidently still room for a kind of greatness that is lacking in the liberal wing of the larger liberal fold.
Greatness, but not goodness. On this, as on almost everything else, George W. Bush was wrong. Hillary Clinton is wrong too.
Putin is the closest approximation the world now has to the great conservative leaders of the past. Conservatives should appreciate this about him. But the gap between real conservatives and the self-styled ones around us is extreme; they might as well be different species.
Still, though, the question remains: why is Putin demonized?
I would venture that the fact that Putin is the leader of Russia has more than a little to do with it.
Even in what Gore Vidal aptly called the United States of Amnesia, it registers at some level that, a century ago, Russians moved history forward; that they broke free from the capitalist system.
The Communists who led the Russian Revolution then went on to organize and oversee the construction of a historically unprecedented, ostensibly socialist, order. It was a valiant effort – undertaken in an economically backward country and in the face of the relentless opposition of far stronger enemies.
Tragically, what they concocted turned out to be a mixed blessing at best. Seven decades later, it all fell apart.
But Communism – in Russia, and then in Eastern Europe and China — was a living presence throughout much of the twentieth century; its effects on politics and reflections on politics were profound.
Even in a country and at a time when Republican-leaning states and regions are described as “red,” the memory of Communism lingers at some level.
Putin is no less pro-capitalist than anyone else in the liberal fold, and he is as fine a conservative leader as one can be in today’s world.
The east –the Russian part as much as the Chinese – is no longer even remotely red (except perhaps in the sense that Republicans are), but the memory persists in our collective consciousness.
And so, when a Russian leader becomes an obstacle in America’s way, the empire strikes back. Step one is to vilify the leader. And if there is anything our foreign policy establishment and our compliant corporate media are good at, vilification tops the list.
Demonizing Putin may be useful in the short run to the empire’s “bipartisan” stewards.
But, they are dealing with someone more formidable than themselves, and they are getting in over their heads. It is a cynical and dangerous ploy from which incalculable harm could follow.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).
What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis
President Barack Obama has been trying, mostly in secret, to craft a new foreign policy that relies heavily on cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down confrontations in hotspots such as Iran and Syria. But Obama’s timidity about publicly explaining this strategy has left it open to attack from powerful elements of Official Washington, including well-placed neocons and people in his own administration.
The gravest threat to this Obama-Putin collaboration has now emerged in Ukraine, where a coalition of U.S. neocon operatives and neocon holdovers within the State Department fanned the flames of unrest in Ukraine, contributing to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and now to a military intervention by Russian troops in the Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine that historically was part of Russia.resident Barack Obama discusses the crisis in Ukraine for 90 minutes on March 1, 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (White House photo/Pete Souza)
Though I’m told the Ukraine crisis caught Obama and Putin by surprise, the neocon determination to drive a wedge between the two leaders has been apparent for months, especially after Putin brokered a deal to head off U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer and helped get Iran to negotiate concessions on its nuclear program, both moves upsetting the neocons who had favored heightened confrontations.
Putin also is reported to have verbally dressed down Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan over what Putin considered their provocative actions regarding the Syrian civil war. So, by disrupting neocon plans and offending Netanyahu and Bandar, the Russian president found himself squarely in the crosshairs of some very powerful people.
If not for Putin, the neocons – along with Israel and Saudi Arabia – had hoped that Obama would launch military strikes on Syria and Iran that could open the door to more “regime change” across the Middle East, a dream at the center of neocon geopolitical strategy since the 1990s. This neocon strategy took shape after the display of U.S. high-tech warfare against Iraq in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union later that year. U.S. neocons began believing in a new paradigm of a uni-polar world where U.S. edicts were law.
The neocons felt this paradigm shift also meant that Israel would no longer need to put up with frustrating negotiations with the Palestinians. Rather than haggling over a two-state solution, U.S. neocons simply pressed for “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries that were assisting the Palestinians or Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the table.
U.S. neocons working on Netanyahu’s campaign team in 1996, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, even formalized their bold new plan, which they outlined in a strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The paper argued that only “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century called for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton refused to go along. The situation changed, however, when President George W. Bush took office and after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander in Chief who agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — and a stunned and angry U.S. public could be easily persuaded. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]
So, Bush invaded Iraq, ousting Hussein but failing to subdue the country. The U.S. death toll of nearly 4,500 soldiers and the staggering costs, estimated to exceed $1 trillion, made the American people and even Bush unwilling to fulfill the full-scale neocon vision, which was expressed in one of their favorite jokes of 2003 about where to attack next, Iran or Syria, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”
Though hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the neocon/Israeli case for having the U.S. military bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – with the hope that the attacks also might spark a “regime change” in Tehran – Bush decided that he couldn’t risk the move, especially after the U.S. intelligence community assessed in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a bomb four years earlier.
The Rise of Obama
The neocons were dealt another setback in 2008 when Barack Obama defeated a neocon favorite, Sen. John McCain. But Obama then made one of the fateful decisions of his presidency, deciding to staff key foreign-policy positions with “a team of rivals,” i.e. keeping Republican operative Robert Gates at the Defense Department and recruiting Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite, to head the State Department.
Obama also retained Bush’s high command, most significantly the media-darling Gen. David Petraeus. That meant that Obama didn’t take control over his own foreign policy.
Gates and Petraeus were themselves deeply influenced by the neocons, particularly Frederick Kagan, who had been a major advocate for the 2007 “surge” escalation in Iraq, which was hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a great “success” but never achieved its principal goal of a unified Iraq. At the cost of nearly 1,000 U.S. dead, it only bought time for an orderly withdrawal that spared Bush and the neocons the embarrassment of an obvious defeat.
So, instead of a major personnel shakeup in the wake of the catastrophic Iraq War, Obama presided over what looked more like continuity with the Bush war policies, albeit with a firmer commitment to draw down troops in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan.
From the start, however, Obama was opposed by key elements of his own administration, especially at State and Defense, and by the still-influential neocons of Official Washington. According to various accounts, including Gates’s new memoir Duty, Obama was maneuvered into supporting a troop “surge” in Afghanistan, as advocated by neocon Frederick Kagan and pushed by Gates, Petraeus and Clinton.
Gates wrote that Kagan persuaded him to recommend the Afghan “surge” and that Obama grudgingly went along although Gates concluded that Obama didn’t believe in the “mission” and wanted to reverse course more quickly than Gates, Petraeus and their side wanted.
Faced with this resistance from his own bureaucracy, Obama began to rely on a small inner circle built around Vice President Joe Biden and a few White House advisers with the analytical support of some CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Obama also found a surprising ally in Putin after he regained the Russian presidency in 2012. A Putin adviser told me that the Russian president personally liked Obama and genuinely wanted to help him resolve dangerous disputes, especially crises with Iran and Syria.
In other words, what evolved out of Obama’s early “team of rivals” misjudgment was an extraordinary presidential foreign policy style, in which Obama developed and implemented much of his approach to the world outside the view of his secretaries of State and Defense (except when Panetta moved briefly to the Pentagon).
Even after the eventual departures of Gates in 2011, Petraeus as CIA director after a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013, Obama’s peculiar approach didn’t particularly change. I’m told that he has a distant relationship with Secretary of State John Kerry, who never joined Obama’s inner foreign policy circle.
Though Obama’s taciturn protectiveness of his “real” foreign policy may be understandable given the continued neocon “tough-guy-ism” that dominates Official Washington, Obama’s freelancing approach gave space to hawkish elements of his own administration.
For instance, Secretary of State Kerry came close to announcing a U.S. war against Syria in a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, 2013, only to see Obama pull the rug out from under him as the President worked with Putin to defuse the crisis sparked by a disputed chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]
Similarly, Obama and Putin hammered out the structure for an interim deal with Iran on how to constrain its nuclear program. But when Kerry was sent to seal that agreement in Geneva, he instead inserted new demands from the French (who were carrying water for the Saudis) and nearly screwed it all up. After getting called on the carpet by the White House, Kerry returned to Geneva and finalized the arrangements.[See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Saudi-Israel Defeat on Iran Deal.”]
Unorthodox Foreign Policy
Obama’s unorthodox foreign policy – essentially working in tandem with the Russian president and sometimes at odds with his own foreign policy bureaucracy – has forced Obama into faux outrage when he’s faced with some perceived affront from Russia, such as its agreement to give temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
For the record, Obama had to express strong disapproval of Snowden’s asylum, though in many ways Putin was doing Obama a favor by sparing Obama from having to prosecute Snowden with the attendant complications for U.S. national security and the damaging political repercussions from Obama’s liberal base.
Putin’s unforced errors also complicated the relationship, such as when he defended Russian hostility toward gays and cracked down on dissent before the Sochi Olympics. Putin became an easy target for U.S. commentators and comedians.
But Obama’s hesitancy to explain the degree of his strategic cooperation with Putin has enabled Official Washington’s still influential neocons, including holdovers within the State Department bureaucracy, to drive more substantive wedges between Obama and Putin. The neocons came to recognize that the Obama-Putin tandem had become a major impediment to their strategic vision.
Without doubt, the neocons’ most dramatic – and potentially most dangerous – counter-move has been Ukraine, where they have lent their political and financial support to opposition forces who sought to break Ukraine away from its Russian neighbor.
Though this crisis also stems from the historical division of Ukraine – between its more European-oriented west and the Russian-ethnic east and south – neocon operatives, with financing from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. sources, played key roles in destabilizing and overthrowing the democratically elected president.
NED, a $100 million-a-year agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states, lists 65 projects that it supports financially inside Ukraine, including training activists, supporting “journalists” and promoting business groups, effectively creating a full-service structure primed and ready to destabilize a government in the name of promoting “democracy.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Shadow US Foreign Policy.”]
State Department neocons also put their shoulders into shoving Ukraine away from Russia. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan and the sister-in-law of the Gates-Petraeus adviser Frederick Kagan, advocated strenuously for Ukraine’s reorientation toward Europe.
Last December, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” by which she meant into the West’s orbit and away from Russia’s.
But President Yanukovych rejected a European Union plan that would have imposed harsh austerity on the already impoverished Ukraine. He accepted a more generous $15 billion loan from Russia, which also has propped up Ukraine’s economy with discounted natural gas. Yanukovych’s decision sparked anti-Russian street protests in Kiev, located in the country’s western and more pro-European region.
Nuland was soon at work planning for “regime change,” encouraging disruptive street protests by personally passing out cookies to the anti-government demonstrators. She didn’t seem to notice or mind that the protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square had hoisted a large banner honoring Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.
By late January, Nuland was discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should be allowed in the new government.
“Yats is the guy,” Nuland said in a phone call to Pyatt that was intercepted and posted online. “He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know.” By “Yats,” Nuland was referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister — and who was committed to harsh austerity.
As Assistant Secretary Nuland and Sen. McCain cheered the demonstrators on, the street protests turned violent. Police clashed with neo-Nazi bands, the ideological descendants of Bandera’s anti-Russian Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II.
With the crisis escalating and scores of people killed in the street fighting, Yanukovych agreed to a E.U.-brokered deal that called for moving up scheduled elections and having the police stand down. The neo-Nazi storm troopers then seized the opening to occupy government buildings and force Yanukovych and many of his aides to flee for their lives.
With these neo-Nazis providing “security,” the remaining parliamentarians agreed in a series of unanimous or near unanimous votes to establish a new government and seek Yanukovych’s arrest for mass murder. Nuland’s choice, Yatsenyuk, emerged as interim prime minister.
Yet, the violent ouster of Yanukovych provoked popular resistance to the coup from the Russian-ethnic south and east. After seeking refuge in Russia, Yanukovych appealed to Putin for help. Putin then dispatched Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea. [For more on this history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine.”]
Separating Obama from Putin
The Ukraine crisis has given Official Washington’s neocons another wedge to drive between Obama and Putin. For instance, the neocon flagship Washington Post editorialized on Saturday that Obama was responding “with phone calls” when something much more threatening than “condemnation” was needed.
It’s always stunning when the Post, which so energetically lobbied for the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the false pretense of eliminating its (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction, gets its ire up about another country acting in response to a genuine security threat on its own borders, not half a world away.
But the Post’s editors have never been deterred by their own hypocrisy. They wrote, “Mr. Putin’s likely objective was not difficult to figure. He appears to be responding to Ukraine’s overthrow of a pro-Kremlin government last week with an old and ugly Russian tactic: provoking a separatist rebellion in a neighboring state, using its own troops when necessary.”
The reality, however, appears to have been that neocon elements from within the U.S. government encouraged the overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine via a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi storm troopers who then terrorized lawmakers as the parliament passed draconian laws, including some intended to punish the Russian-oriented regions which favor Yanukovych.
Yet, besides baiting Obama over his tempered words about the crisis, the Post declared that “Mr. Obama and European leaders must act quickly to prevent Ukraine’s dismemberment. Missing from the president’s statement was a necessary first step: a demand that all Russian forces – regular and irregular – be withdrawn … and that Moscow recognize the authority of the new Kiev government. … If Mr. Putin does not comply, Western leaders should make clear that Russia will pay a heavy price.”
The Post editors are fond of calling for ultimatums against various countries, especially Syria and Iran, with the implication that if they don’t comply with some U.S. demand that harsh actions, including military reprisals, will follow.
But now the neocons, in their single-minded pursuit of endless “regime change” in countries that get in their way, have taken their ambitions to a dangerous new level, confronting nuclear-armed Russia with ultimatums.
By Sunday, the Post’s neocon editors were “spelling out the consequences” for Putin and Russia, essentially proposing a new Cold War. The Post mocked Obama for alleged softness toward Russia and suggested that the next “regime change” must come in Moscow.
“Many in the West did not believe Mr. Putin would dare attempt a military intervention in Ukraine because of the steep potential consequences,” the Post wrote. “That the Russian ruler plunged ahead shows that he doubts Western leaders will respond forcefully. If he does not quickly retreat, the United States must prove him wrong.”
The madness of the neocons has long been indicated by their extraordinary arrogance and their contempt for other nations’ interests. They assume that U.S. military might and other coercive means must be brought to bear on any nation that doesn’t bow before U.S. ultimatums or that resists U.S.-orchestrated coups.
Whenever the neocons meet resistance, they don’t rethink their strategy; they simply take it to the next level. Angered by Russia’s role in heading off U.S. military attacks against Syria and Iran, the neocons escalated their geopolitical conflict by taking it to Russia’s own border, by egging on the violent ouster of Ukraine’s elected president.
The idea was to give Putin an embarrassing black eye as punishment for his interference in the neocons’ dream of “regime change” across the Middle East. Now, with Putin’s countermove, his dispatch of Russian troops to secure control of the Crimea, the neocons want Obama to further escalate the crisis by going after Putin.
Some leading neocons even see ousting Putin as a crucial step toward reestablishing the preeminence of their agenda. NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
At minimum, the neocons hope that they can neutralize Putin as Obama’s ally in trying to tamp down tensions with Syria and Iran – and thus put American military strikes against those two countries back under active consideration.
As events spin out of control, it appears way past time for President Obama to explain to the American people why he has collaborated with President Putin in trying to resolve some of the world’s thorniest problems.
That, however, would require him to belatedly take control of his own administration, to purge the neocon holdovers who have worked to sabotage his actual foreign policy, and to put an end to neocon-controlled organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy, that use U.S. taxpayers’ money to stir up trouble abroad. That would require real political courage.
- BY KORI SCHAKE
KORI SCHAKE IS A FELLOW AT THE HOOVER INSTITUTION AND CONTRIBUTOR TO FOREIGN POLICY’S SHADOW GOVERNMENT BLOG.
- MARCH 10, 2014
Obama White House cannot resist the temptation to parade its every move in the Ukraine crisis — much to the detriment of its policy succeeding. This is an indiscipline born of self-regard: The White House thinks the president is so compelling and so central to the narrative that his every utterance is advantageous. And, of course, this is an administration in which no national security issue is assessed innocent of domestic political impact. They are failing to understand that by making the crisis so personal, the United States is doing a disservice to the people of Ukraine and making it much more difficult for the Russians to walk back their reckless grab for Crimea.
The White House not only tells reporters when the president talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but then spills the contents of the phone calls. So we know they talked for 90 minutes on Saturday, March 1, and again five days later when President Barack Obama told Putin, according to a White House readout, that “Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has led us to take several steps in response, in coordination with our European partners.” The president himself stepped up to the mic that same day tosay, “We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”
But it is a mystery why this White House thinks any of this will soften Putin’s resolve to see this gambit through. Maybe Obama thinks pious reassertion of Western values will cement European support for economic sanctions on Moscow (that will hit their economies, but not America’s). In any event, the White House seems not to appreciate that the president’s statement is factually untrue, as Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 actually did redraw borders over the head of a democratic leader, and this very administration did precious little to penalize a Russia with which it wanted to “reset” relations on more positive footing.
Moreover, let’s recall just how much moral, if not legal, ambiguity we face in this crisis. The United States has sided with people who just overthrew a democratically elected government — the protests in Kiev overturned a democratic process, just as the protests in Cairo ousted President Mohamed Morsi. So the administration looks to be on pretty thin ice when it touts the unassailability of democratic processes. It not only makes the United States look hypocritical — the country only respects the rules when they produce outcomes it likes — but it also gives credence to the upcoming plebiscite in Crimea. All the White House grandstanding has painted its policy into a corner: The United States is now in the position of arguing against the will of the majority in Crimea to protect the will of the majority in Kiev.
The more the administration makes the crisis in Ukraine about a conflict between the West and Russia, the less likely Moscow is to accede to Washington’s preferred outcome. Secretary of State John Kerry understands this, but the White House keeps interjecting the “President vs. Putin” story line, which only tempts journalists with “can he deliver the West?” articles. What Obama should be doing instead is putting the challenges of Ukraine in the center of the picture. This is a state that struggles to be a nation, with a deeply corrupt leadership that has bankrupted a wealthy country and with low levels of social trust between its eastern and western populations. Moreover, it’s clear the new legislature in Kiev did set off alarms in Crimea that its opening effort to outlaw the speaking of Russian; that doesn’t justify the Kremlin’s aggression, but it does give some context for fears of Ukrainians in the east of the country.
The best way forward in this crisis is to focus our immediate attention on putting Ukraine in a position to elect a legislature broadly representative of the country. That goes both at the national level, where parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 25, and regionally in Crimea, where a snap vote on separation from Ukraine will be held on March 16. In that narrow window of time we should be racing to address legitimate Crimean concerns, flood the zone with international observers of every stripe to provide information and bear witness to events, deeply engage with leaders on all sides to condition their behavior by making clear our responses to a variety of outcomes, and publicly support principled policies that reassure the losers of elections that their rights will still be respected. Rather than declaring, as Obama did, the Crimean plebiscite illegal, we should do what democracies do: win the argument.
Now is the time to unleash Jimmy Carter on Crimea! And not in terms of Obama’s policy, but in a legion of international observers who will inform the world and scold the parties to the conflict to behave consistent with international norms. Where is Code Pink putting daisies in the rifles of Russian soldiers? Where are business reports that Gazprom being an arm of the Russian state should attract more regulatory attention and less investment? We so seldom actually use these tools of free societies to our advantage. Let’s see how the Russians manage when faced with the real power of the West: not governments, but civil society.
Once Ukraine is on more stable footing we can turn our attention to the dish best served cold: retaliation against Putin and his cronies for their bare-knuckled attempt to establish “protection of Russians” as the basis for intimidating neighbors. Putin has already achieved a valuable aim: showing the region what Russia is capable of. As authoritarians understand much better than do those of us who live in secure freedom, once you instill fear in people, it actually doesn’t take much repression to sustain it. By asserting the primacy of Russians’ rights wherever they reside, he has cast a self-censoring shadow into the politics of the Baltic states. The Obama administration is to be commended for moving swiftly to reassure America’s NATO allies that the United States will defend their territorial integrity; more needs to be done to show the country will also protect their domestic politics from Russian interference.
Instead, however, the White House is madly backgrounding reporters about what the United States is privately demanding of the Russians: The White House said Obama told Putin there still was a way to resolve the situation diplomatically, which would include Kiev and Moscow holding direct talks, international monitors, and Russian forces returning to their bases. There was no indication of Putin’s response.
Putin agreeing to those things — all of which are good policy objectives — will seem a climb down and are, frankly, unlikely. Washington’s smarter move would be to allow the Russians to claim credit for things it wants to have happen. But this is a White House that can’t even give credit to allies for their work in Libya and Mali; there’s no chance this White House is able to get past the effrontery of Russian snubs to achieve bigger objectives.
The White House is still trying to outrun its self-characterization of “leading from behind” by showing the president to be an active, forceful presence in the Ukraine crisis. It’s still trying to dig him out of the embarrassment of his unwillingness to enforce his red line on Syria. In other words, the White House is fighting the last war. This political solipsism is actually making this potential war more likely and making less likely an outcome consistent with U.S. interests and those of the people of Ukraine. The president needs to discipline himself to stop talking and start doing the small things that can be done.
- Fonte: Foreign Affairs