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Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Unlucky Poland

The large plane crash involving Poland’s president and other key leadership oddly mirrors the tragic events of Katyn, which this generation of leaders were flying to Smolensk, Russia to honor.  Of course, the scale of the 2010 crash is many times smaller than Katyn, where some tens of thousands of Polish Officers and intelligentsia were murdered by the NKVD during the early stages of World War II.

Poland has been an unlucky country in many ways:  its national borders snuffed out for most of the 19th Century, its leadership beset by infighting in the 18th, conquered by Germans and Soviets in the 20th, some 6 million of its citizens murdered by Nazis and some several hundred thousand more murdered by Soviets and their lackeys thereafter.  Yet it has risen again, many times over, no matter what it has endured.  Indeed, the 20 years in its post-Communism phase have largely been a period of expanded wealth, military power, and good relations with both Germany and Russia.

The glue that has held Poland together through all of these events is Catholicism, which is believed widely and more sincerely there than in nearly any other European country.  Let us hope that the Polish people’s Catholic faith sees them through this latest tragedy.

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The bombing in the Moscow subway is a typical Islamic terrorist horror, complete with suicide bombings, mass death, and sneaky female perpetrators.  But Russia, like Israel, has within or lives alongside a large number of Muslims.  It acquired its Caucasian Republics as part of its 19th Century drive to have a warm water port.  As a consequence, an historically Nordic and homogenous group–the Russian Slavs–acquired a multinational empire of Tatars, Chechens, Ingushetians, Ossetians, and all the rest.  

Israel, likewise, was born in the post World War II Jewish reconquest of their ancient homeland, which, in the 2,000 years of their exile, had become populated by a majority of Christian and Muslim Palestinian Arabs. 

In other words, both of these nations because of where they are located and the settled facts of their ancient and recent history must deal with Muslims, and that means they must deal with Muslim terrorism.  The United States, by contrast, is protected by two oceans, has a miniscule Muslim population, and benefits in spite of it all from a great deal of historical homogeneity, particularly on the matter of religion. 

Our Muslim population is of recent vintage, often speaks with an accent, is easily identified, and is here because of the 1964 immigration reforms, which were deliberately designed to turn the white majority into a minority.  While we’re told repeatedly that “diversity is our strength,” the facts suggest otherwise.  Muslims do nothing extraordinary in America that Americans cannot do themselvses.  They are not particularly talented and seem concentrated in low skill merchant occupations, with a smaller cohort in medicine and engineering.  In other words, they do things we can easily do for ourselvs.  But since this “reform” we’ve had the ’93 WTC attacks, 9/11, the El Al airlines shoot up, Major Nidal Hasan, and many other Muslim attacks and associated inconveniences. 

Is this what we want?  We are not fated to live this way.  The risk is completely artificial, a creature of immigration policy that is fairly easily reversed in this instance, as evidenced by the mass self-deportation of Arabs and Muslims in the wake of the increased scrutiny following the 9/11 attacks.  Russia and Israel, if they mean to preserve themselves, may have to resort to extremes.  Some view their common terorrism problem as requiring solidarity and American activity in the region.  But our common threat allows us (unlike Russia and Israel) a low effort, high reward solution not available to the fellow victims of Muslim terrorism.  America can do defend itself by simply shutting the front door through which the terrorists keep coming in and by reducing our presence in the neighborhoods in which they reside, which focuses their attention unduly upon us.  We should not allow a common threat obscure from us an uncommon advantage of geography and history.

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It’s been a heady few weeks for Obama’s foreign policy.  It has echoes of Carter all around.  It is animated chiefly by guilt and a lack of confidence.  Its big features in recent weeks are as follows:  (1) we will have more due process for al Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan; (2) we are going to give Russia a huge victory (and our allies a huge headache) without anything in return by dropping missile defense in Eastern Europe; and (3) we are going to meet unconditionally and bilaterally with North Korea, even though this marginalizes Japan, South Korea, and other important and interested parties in the region.

Foreign policy was a campaign prop for Obama, but it was not nearly  as important as it was to John Kerry, for whom getting the respect of the French was the most important thing in life.  Obama’s apparent belief that if we are “nice” to people that are critical of us, hostile to us, or competitive with us, they will back down. This is reminiscent of President Carter, who dropped the B-1 bomber program, abandoned the Panama Canal, defunded the MX Missile, and reduced military spending–all in an attempt to treat all countries as our equals, even when we were many times stronger, and also to placate the Soviet Union.  The end result was an emboldened Soviet Union that invaded Afghanistan, the toppling of the Shah in Iran, and the loss of the Panama Canal.  Obama takes this principle further, thinking that it is important not to be nice merely to potential competitors like Russia and China, but also to cultivate the self-respect of the Third World by treating weak dysfunctional countries like Egypt or Iran or North Korea, as if they were our equals.

It’s true the Cold War is over. Insofar as NATO should exist at all, it made sense after the Cold War to integrate the fundamentally western and friendly powers of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into its command structure.  These countries were bullied by the Soviet Union and also by Tsarist Russia, and the would risk being bullied by an independent Russia after the Soviet collapse without western support.  That said, Russia is a great power, and there is no good reason today to antagonize a post-Soviet Russia through policies like missile defense or expanding NATO to countries on its border like Georgia.

Whether aimed ostensibly at Iran or in actuality at Russia, missile defenses in Eastern Europe were a mistaken policy of the last eight years, a product of the neoconservatives’ view that Russia was an intractable enemy as opposed to a manageable regional power with basic nationalist concerns for influence and security.

Even with these caveats in mind, the President and conservatives who applaud this decision, such as Daniel Larison, should recognize that the friendly countries of Central Europe have gone out on a limb for the United States in Iraq, and their governments whethered a great deal of pressure from domestic political factions and Russian saber-rattling for their friendliness to missile defense.  If this policy turned out to be counterproductive, the reward for their support of the United States should be something tangible such as conventional arms sales, and this substitution should have been public and showy.  Instead, for Poland in particular, insult was added to injury as the dropping of missile defense was announced on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland in 1939.  Nice optics there Obama.

It’s not so clear this policy will gain us anything from Russia on Iran, which was the ostensible purpose of this gesture.  Russia simply implied this would be an opening for more brinksmanship, viz., Putin was quoted as saying “And I hope very much that this correct and brave decision will be followed by others.”

Why did the administration do this in a way so insensitive to our partners in Eastern Europe? Well, first, I think Obama thinks the US was not such a great guy in the Cold War, and that our pig-headedness and myopia did much to increase tension.  Giving Russia respect is part of his concept of justice, therefore.  Second, he believes we’re much too concerned with Europe in general.  To him, part of global social justice requires the protection of the rights, independence, and sovereignty of the Third World from the machinations of the First World (US and Western Europe) and the Second World (former Communist Countries).  Keeping the First and Second Worlds’ conflict down to a dull roar allows him to focus on the Third World, with gestures like amnesty for illegal aliens, human rights reforms in our treatment of terrorists, increasing foreign aid, standing on the side of leftists in Honduras, and kowtowing to Muslims in Cairo.

Obama’s heart is in the Third World.  In the 1980s when he was in college, he was inspired by anti-apartheid politics and movements for domestic nuclear disarmament, not the heroic Contras of Nicaragua or the Poles of Solidarity. As he said in Dreams of My Father regarding a post-college trip to Europe, “[B]y the end of the first week or so, I realized that I‘d made a mistake. It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I‘d imagined it. It just wasn’t mine.”   And love of the Third World, the Third World of his father’s national socialist Kenya, is the ideology of the Third World nonaligned movement. The Nonaligned Movement was led by countries like India, Indonesia, and Brazil to forge a new, independent socialist destiny.  It viewed the Cold War as an act of quasi-imperialism, which diverted attention from the Third Worlders’ nationalist interest in expropriating wealth from First World businesses and their interest in gaining independence from the influence of both the United States and the Soviet Union.  As Obama said in Cairo, “More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

In this view, Russia will not treated with exceptional respect, and it wasn’t on his recent state visit. Instead, it’s just a big hungry bear that needs to be appeased so the real business of radicalizing the home front and forging common cause with “oppressed peoples” at home and in the Third World can continue.

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What are Russia’s Subs doing off America’s East Coast?

I have an hypothesis. It involves events of one year ago: Russia’s Counterattack Against Georgia and Liberation (or Annexation depending on your point of view) of South Ossetia.

As Russia’s Akula Class Subs cruise our East Coast, Georgia is complaining this week about Ossetia again, and there have been some very minor clashes between Russian and Georgian forces in recent weeks. It’s aparently very tense over there.

I wonder if this is Russia’s way of saying: if your ally decides to attack again and things get hot in Ossetia, don’t think it will costless for the United States to lend a hand. The weak Russia of Boris Yeltsin is a fading memory. While the U.S. may be able to send some naval vessels or logistical aid through the Bosporous into the Black Sea, let’s just say if you go into our “lake,” we’ll be keeping an eye on your comings and goings and can respond in kind to any military aid to the Georgians. In other words, two can play at the power projection game.

I hope nothing happens either over here or in Ossetia, but the one year anniversary of the war–8/8/08–is coming up, and Saakashvili is completely unpredictable in general and doubly desparate because he is about to lose power domestically. He’s just stupid enough to attack again in the hopes the West will view a Russian counterattack as “aggression.”

I hope he realizes his similarly choleric mentor, John McCain, did not win the election, and Obama’s only likely support for Georgia will be some bandaids, and a speech asking “cooler heads to prevail.” If Saakashvili is not killed by the Russians or his own people, Obama may even have them all over for a beer summit.

Incidentally, this show of military capability by Russia is all happening shortly after Obama’s charm offensive to Moscow. During the campaign, part of Obama’s schtick was that everyone was going to love us now and never cause problems because Obama will be so smooth compared to Bush. And while there may be a modicum of truth to this, it is worrisome that the very parties we are courting are responding in this fashion. Then again, between having a NATO exercise in Georgia earlier this year, various protocol flubs in Moscow, and Biden’s insults of Russia after Obama’s recent trip, it could simply be that actions and other administration officials’ unscripted words speak louder than Obama’s empty rhetoric overseas, just as they speak more loudly at home.

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Russians are practical, even sometimes rather harsh, people, and it was no great surprise to me that they were a great deal more skeptical of Obama than the more deracinated folks in Western Europe. White guilt doesn’t fly with Russians. Like Jews and the Irish, Russians are a self righteous nation that sees itself, at worst, as a victim of the designs of greedy, double-talking, back-stabbing Westerners.

Obama’s typical rhetorical style is a Solomon-like proliferation of double-talk and glittering generalities. After being ruled and abused for three quarters of a century by regime built on “hope” and “glittering generalities,” then a decade of chaos under western “tutelage,” the Russians are a tough sell for this kind of thing.

This quote a Russian business student sounded about like what I’d expect from the typical Russian:

“We don’t really understand why Obama is such a star,” said Kirill Zagorodnov, 25, one of the graduates. “It’s a question of trust, how he behaves, how he positions himself, that typical charisma, which in Russia is often parodied. Russians really are not accustomed to it. It is like he is trying to manipulate the public.”

Russia knows America’s foreign policy to Russia is what really matters. They also know that Obama, while he has extended the olive branch, will likely not challenge certain institutional biases against Russia, NATO enlargement, policies of missile deployment in Eastern Europe, and stupid “human rights” hectoring regarding the restive provinces of Dagestan and Chechenya.

I do commend Obama for trying to thaw out our unfortunately strained relations with a great nation that is a natural ally in our conflicts with Islamic terrorists. Perhaps the cool reception will wake Obama up to how the world works and give him a much needed dose of reality.

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The blog Your Lying Eyes had a quite brilliant and nuanced essay on the politics of restraint:

So by crediting Putin/Russia with restraint, I’m hardly slabbering them with praise. But it is an indication of self-interest at work, and this is a very important thing to know about a country. When you can be sure a country is merely acting in its self-interest, you’ve got something to work with and a basis for negotiation and diplomacy. One of the scary things about the old Soviet Union was that it appeared to have some very big goals in mind besides what was best for Mother Russia, such as International Socialism. It often over-reached internationally and in its devotion to socialism at home starved and enslaved its own people. We pretty much had to take it at its word that it sought world domination, and thus the Cold War.

But the Soviet Union is long gone. Russia no longer shows any interest in fomenting revolution abroad and imposing totalitarian rule on its neighbors. It does not threaten the United States or Western Europe or even the non-Soviet Iron-Curtain nations of Eastern Europe. It would clearly like to have less hostile countries on its immediate border. Imagine Chavez’s Venezuela bordering the U.S. – I don’t think we’d put up with that, quite frankly (as, for example, with Cuba). Yet both Ukraine and Georgia are openly hostile and pro-American, yet both remain independent. This is hardly the behavior of a reckless, dangerous, rogue state.

In its actions in Georgia, Russia is clearly making a statement about Western influence on its borders, and appears willing to back off provided this message is heard and respected. Thus the restraint. Putin doesn’t want trouble with Europe or America, but he’s not willing to be boxed in by an expansionist NATO, either. It is critical that the U.S. not escalate tensions with continued talk of NATO membership and anti-missile installations*. We have nothing to gain from an antagonistic relationship with Russia, and very little to gain from friendly relations with her neighbors. Self-interest and self-assessment suggest one thing is required on our part: restraint.

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In a more rational world, any alliances the US made with anyone would be reciprocal and balanced in nature. We’d get something in return for our commitments, and that something would equal or exceed our efforts. For that reason, we’d be wary of getting in bed with hot-headed and geographically isolated nations like Georgia or Armenia or, for that matter, Taiwan.

This idea of reciprocity was the model of the old NATO partnership. The Western European countries had a common interest in allying against the Soviets, and they knew that together (along with the US) they were substantially more powerful than they were otherwise. It made sense to sign up smaller Western European countries, because the NATO nations’ collective power increased by using standardized weapons systems and other protocols. Every NATO nation was at risk, continguous, and perceived as a common bloc by the Soviet Union. If Belgium or the Netherlands did not join, they’d simply be “free riders.”

By contrast, today the model of NATO expansion and US security guarantees in general seems to be all about racking up numbers and looking for missions without regard to the risks that commitments to places like Lithuania or Georgia might entail. We’ve forgotten that foreign policy is ruled first and last by the law of the jungle. In post-modern fashion, we’re embracing alliances and adding people to NATO like we’re racking up connections on Facebook.  The currency of international relations, however, is force.  Just as you don’t befriend the “punk” in prison, you don’t stick your neck out for weak nations destined to be ruled by their neighbors.

Unfortunately for our new allies, we won’t realistically defend places like Georgia, Lithuania, or Moldova. Emboldened by an empty guarantee, they may bite off more than they can chew in a fit of pique, just as Saakashvili did earlier this month. Such nations’ gestures of alliance–sending a few thousand troops (highly dependent on US logistics) to Iraq–are sweet, but do not count for much. We’ve forgotten that alliances are not fundamentally acts of charity but are instead expressions of enlightened self-interest.  Broken promises may do more to create enemies than anything else the United States does in the years ahead.

We have enough abuse of welfare at home; we don’t need to bring this dead-end to foreign policy, encouraging schemers and perrenial losers to suck dry the life blood of a great nation with entangling alliances.

Any security relationship is quite unlike networking, where the rule is “the more, the better.” Rather, because of our relative power, it is an instance of letting people into an exclusive and potentially expensive club: friends the US will go to war for. Without such parsimony, we’ll be misled by sycophants and needy hangers on.  We are already weighted down by serious responsibilities in South Korea and Israel, persistent foreign wars such as we are fighting in Iraq, and the designs of self-interested charlatans like Ahmed Chalabi.

Pissing off the Russians for preserving the borders of a Caucasian County the size of Los Angeles in a small nation the size of South Carolina is the exact opposite of any self-interested concept of foreign policy.  McCain’s ridiculous assertion that “We are all Georgians now,” only highlights his dangerousness and inability to make necessary distinctions in this arena.

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