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Archive for the ‘Medvedev’ Category

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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Tom Piatak makes an important observation about the historical context forgotten by those who see in today’s Russia the same kind of threat that existed in the former Soviet Union:

The border dispute between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia has inspired much breathless commentary, including Andrew McCarthy at NRO proclaiming this the “Soviets’ rebirth.”

Before hyperventilating, McCarthy would be well advised to read some back issues of National Review. As that magazine long argued, what made the Soviet Union such a dangerous threat was the Communist ideology the Soviet Union embodied, an ideology that gave the Soviets many Western admirers and allies and also propelled the Soviets toward confrontation with the West. Soviet Communism is dead, and what is going on in South Ossetia is an old-fashioned border squabble of the type that the United States has wisely stayed out of for most of our history.

This is exactly right. No one ever expected Russia before or after the Soviet Era to be indifferent to the safety of its own people, the actions of nearby enemies, and the behavior of neighboring nations in general. The problem for the United States and the West during the Cold War was not so much that the Soviet Union concerned itself with the Caucuses or the Baltics, but rather that it also concerned itself with Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola, Libya, Syria, and everywhere else on the globe.  Its unifying Communist ideology was an uncompromising and aggressive set of principles that did not acknowledge any geographical or other limits. A nationalist and powerful Russia, by contrast, can always be expected to have a certain influence over its neighbors. This is not a problem for the United States, and those neighbors ultimately must reach a modus vivendi with Russia that the U.S. can do little to fashion.

The natural power of Russia over its near-abroad–particularly the Caucuses–is why the expansion of NATO to Russia’s front door and NATO’s embrace new of missions such as the Kosovo Campaign are so foolish. These detours turn a defensive alliance, once necessary to contain an aggressive and ideological regime, into an offensive conspiracy that would foment the very aggresion that it ostensibly exists to deter.

Any useful concept of post-Cold-War relations must be founded on some realistic consideration of spheres of influence. The Caucuses are a legitimate concern for Russia, not least because they include parts of Russia and, in the case of Georgia, a nation that borders Russia. Just as Europe should respect American influence over the Western Hemisphere, it is natural and predictable that nations like Russia will be substantially more touchy in affairs taking place in their own backyard.

Even if some strategic relationship with nations like Armenia and Georgia makes sense to the U.S., it is particularly unwise that cooperation extends the NATO defensive military alliance. Far from “avoiding another Munich,” such commitments would instead hurt the intended beneficiaries, and likely hurt the U.S. as well.  Such commitments could hurt both parties directly by dragging us into wars based on the actions of our uncontrolable treaty partners or indirectly by creating commitment that the U.S. would ultimately abjure and thereby devalue our national honor. It is especially a bad idea to get into bed with a provocative and irresponsible–if fawningly pro-American–leader like Saakashvili. After 1989, and especially now after witnessing the indifferent assistance of our NATO allies in Afghanistan, the U.S. should scale back our NATO commitments to informal relationships with the handful of NATO nations that can actually do something useful for us like Italy, Great Britain, and Turkey.

Our continued cultivation of NATO is an extension of a self-defeating U.S. strategy undertaken during the 1990s: the impossible goal of maintaining “unipolarity.” In foreign affairs, this quest to remain the “sole superpower” makes everything everywhere our business, sets us up for manipulation by cynical power brokers like Hasim Thaci and Saakashvili, and is in the end a recipe for high cost and little reward, as our power will become resented and opposed by inevitable regional powers like Indian, Russia, and China. Just as anti-war conservatives should acknowledge that the strong defense posture of the Cold War was addressed to a singularly dangerous threat, pro-war conservatives today should remember the same in reverse. Very few threats match those of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia. It is time to restore some sense of proportion in foreign policy, based on the sturdy foundations of preserving our own safety and our own national independence in a world where the reality of power politics is the most important factor.

Of course, such a world would not always be a perfectly just one. I don’t mean to imply the evils suffered in this war, particularly by the civilians of Georgia, are not real and unfortunate. But politics, above all, requires some translation of abstract justice into the human realm, refracted as it is by memory, power, history, and geography. A foreign policy that aimed to rid the world of all evil, all competition, all war, and all strife in the name of “commitment to doing the right thing” would destroy the country that pursued it, no matter how sincerely. If the Soviet Union’s doomed history teaches us anything, it should be this.

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Kissinger reminds us that Russia is moving in its own way towards the rule of law and that we should not needlessly provoke her:

Speeches denouncing Russian shortcomings and gestures drawn from the Cold War have occurred frequently. Proponents of such policies assert that the transformation of Russian society is the precondition of a more harmonious international order. They argue that if pressure is maintained on the current Russia, it, too, will eventually implode. Yet assertive intrusion into what Russians consider their own sense of self runs the risk of thwarting both geopolitical and moral goals.

Some groups and individuals in Russia undoubtedly look to America to accelerate a democratic evolution. But almost all observers agree that the majority of Russians perceive America as presumptuous and determined to stunt Russia’s recovery. Such an environment is more likely to generate a nationalist and confrontational response than a democratic evolution.

In many ways, we are witnessing one of the most promising periods in Russian history. Exposure to modern open societies and engagement with them is more prolonged and intense than ever before — even in the face of unfortunate repressive measures. The longer this continues, the more it will impact Russia’s political evolution.

The pace of such an evolution will inevitably be Russian. We can affect it more by patience and historical understanding than by offended disengagement and public exhortations.

I was encouraged that such a wise man of foreign policy echoed some themes I had written about earlier in my own non-expert musings on Putin and Medvedev here and here.

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It’s bad enough that the United States criticizes Russia’s elections, the methods it uses against Islamic extremists in Chechnya, and the peaceful sharing of power between Putin and his successor Medvedev, but now certain voices in the government are implying that there’s something wrong with Russia’s celebration of its victory over Nazi Germany by having a military parade. Consider the context: this was the worst, most bloody war in world history, and the Russians bore the brunt of that bloodshed, losing some 23 million people, including 11 million civilians. Further, even with the various horrors of life under the Soviet Union, the Soviet state was powerful and taken seriously on the world scene until 1989. People held down by Soviet reality could take some pride in the nation’s collective power, particularly as private life improved during the Gorbachev era. In the 1990s, under a decade of weak leadership by President Yeltsin, the Russia military went into a state of disrepair, and the Russian state became a laughing stock–a land of prostitutes, fraudsters, selfish oligarchs, military weakness, disappearing pensions, and poverty.

Today life in Russia is good, the military is strong, the economy is improving, and birth-rates are rising. In other words, life is better after Putin’s rule than before, and the nation–full of patriotic people who have always held the military in high esteem–enjoys seeing the military on display, replete with sophisticated weaponry in a state of good repair, operated by troops in a state of discipline and good order.

Interpreting this as “saber-rattling” is a typical misreading of reality by folks schooled in the high theory of foreign policy structural realism. Structural realism takes little account of a nation’s domestic life. It postulates that all states everywhere are aiming for maximum power; it does not matter if a nation is a democracy or dictatorship, nor does it matter that it has ideological and cultural attachments and predispositions. Labeling oversimplified models with fancy names does not make them any more useful; unfortunately, this kind of “crib sheet” thinking is common among Bush’s neoconservative advisers, who studied under the high priests of foreign policy structural realism at the University of Chicago.

There’s a simple truth that too much education can obscure from observers: people like a good parade, particularly when it honors a nation’s military that defeated the Nazis against great odds and after great losses. Americans, who have many criticisms of their own government, have a similarly positive view of the military as the most effective and least self-interested government institution. To look at a parade as an international affairs provocation is a typical misreading of events, though not a surprising one, considering our government’s misunderstanding of the Iraqi people, the nature of the Kosovo terrorist state, and the likely outcome of democracy in the Palestinian Authority.

The prominent display of Soviet symbols does deserve mention. What does it mean? One thing it does not mean is that Soviet-style communism, aggression, and human rights violations are making a comeback. There is no doubt that Putin and Medvedev have rejected Soviet-style control over the economy and the civil society of the Russian people. Private businesses and religious life are enjoying a renaissance. The Russian solution is not the same balancing act of liberty and order as we enjoy in the United States, but neither is that of France, Germany, and the UK, all of whom routinely prosecute conservatives for trumped up charges of “racist” speech. Putin’s positive display of Soviet symbols is part of a broader attempt at national reconciliation.  Putin, to his credit, has embraced the type of solution to national strife employed by de Gaulle after WWII and northern Americans after Reconstruction. That is, he emphasizes those honorable parts of the Soviet past, particularly the strength of its military against the Nazis, while simply setting aside the moral meaning of state control of the economy, the suppression of Russian nationalism, and other evils. This narrative is analogous to the universal recognition of the honor and bravery of the Confederate soldier in America from, say, 1876-1960. In other words, Putin knows that it’s simply too much to ask a man to piss on his father’s grave and for a nation to declare one third or more of its people criminals.  Pride, order, patriotism, and normalcy are paramount, even at the expense of historical accuracy. He’s sought to synthesize the symbols of the pre-revolutionary Russian nation, Soviet military power, and the universal desire for peace and prosperity in the public life and symbology of the new Russia.

Much of modern foreign policy concerns itself with criticizing other nations’ internal affairs, even as diplomats and analysts are steeped in a theory that studiously avoids serious understanding of the character of the world’s peoples and their domestic politics.

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McCain’s mind works as follows: all situations are divided between good and evil. No one is simply mistaken, confused, immature, unwise, or, perhaps, correct in a way that McCain cannot yet perceive.  Though it’s become a bad word, there is such a thing as nuance, and it’s particularly valuable when we’re talking about relations with a large country that we’re not at war with that happens to have thousands of nuclear weapons. McCain seems to think that doubling down on the aggressive policy in the Middle East is good and brave and heroic, so he’s seeking expensive and risky confrontations with China and Russia halfway around the globe, even as he shies away from securing our own frontiers with nearby Mexico.  The latter is prosaic and humdrum, while crusades for democracy in the Caucuses, well, that’s the stuff history is made of.  (Unfortunately, that history will be entitled the Decline and Fall of America.)

McCain has the following in mind:

President George W. Bush said in 2001 that he had looked Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the eye and “was able to get a sense of his soul.” Senator John McCain says he looked into Putin’s eyes “and saw three letters: KGB.”

McCain, 71, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, favors expelling Russia from the Group of Eight club of industrial powers. He calls for forging a “League of Democracies” to confront Putin and hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev, who takes over tomorrow, on Russian threats against former Soviet republics and rollbacks of domestic freedoms.

The candidate’s approach to Russia signals that he has aligned himself with hard-line foreign-policy advisers who favor democracy promotion above all and rejects advocates of doing business with authoritarian regimes when it suits U.S. interests.

This election should be treated as a referendum on open borders with Mexico and a policy of quasi-war with Russia. As bad as Clinton and Obama are, neither of them is so uncompromisingly single-minded and ideological about these two very stupid passions of John McCain.

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Dmity Medvedev deserves a chance to rule.  He’s been frequently lambasted as Putin’s “puppet” by know-it-all westerners. But how much worse, how much of a puppet, would Hillary Clinton be?  Isn’t this the high water mark of hypocricy, particularly when this charge is uttered by Hillary herself?

Before his election, Medvedev was a successful lawyer, a law professor, and a participant in the liberal, reformist regime in St. Petersburg during the 1990s.  He ran the huge conglomerate Gazprom.  Then he served as Vladimir Putin’s deputy. Now they will share power differently, with Putin as prime minister. This is unique, but movement in and out of power is not necessarily the end of democracy (ask President and Supreme Court Justice Taft), and it surely is less of a threat than the hereditary duopoly of two mediocre and power-hungry families, as we have at home of late.

Hillary, by contrast, was a reasonably successful commercial lawyer, but in a po-dunk state; she managed to find herself in two major financial scandals (Whitewater and Cattle Futures); there is no doubt she was only elected in NY because of her name recognition and her husband’s fundraising ability.  She failed miserably in her managerial role trying to promote healthcare, and so far has shown little managerial competence in running her presidential campaign.  She has a very thin resume when it comes to executive functions, unlike Putin’s deputy. She has been a competent Senator, but the skills learned there do not translate very well into being President, which is probably why the last six Presidents came from a gubernatorial or VP background.

Hillary’s qualifications are dubious, but all too common in the age of democratic decadence; her First Lady status is something she shares in common with other lackluster, quasi-monarchical “presidents” such as Indira Gandhi (India), Corozon Aquino (Philippines), and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina).   None of these leaders was known for much more than nepotism and corruption.

Russia is not perfect . . . if the standard of perfection is democratic liberalism.  But neither then is China, South Africa, or Albania.  Yet they all get a pass. Russia is certainly in pretty good shape by any world historical standard.  It is much more liberal than it was during the dark days of Soviet Communism, when American intellectuals were talking about convergence and unilateral disarmament and “economic democracy.”  Finally, Russia would be a natural partner in the war against Radical Islam, if only American leaders and journalists would stop going out of our way to insult its leaders. 

American critics insult Russia, even as these same public intellectuals make apologies for useless thugs like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Amadinedjead, not to mention Castro.  Why? Pas d’ennemi a gauche!  Putin is perceived by elites in both parties as a “man of the right,” and thus none of his expressions of national pride and authority go uncriticized. 

He is a de Gaulle figure in his country’s history, restoring pride through competent leadership that is consciously mindful of the value of patriotic symbols.  His restoration of the role of the Orthodox Church in particular grates against liberals and atheist comopolitans.  But it is high time that America behaved, if not justly and fairly, at least sensibly towards Russia.  Mere self interest should correct our path and remind us that the only thing we’ve gotten from this campaign of defamation is highly priced oil and a Russia increasingly unified, once more, against American “imperialists.” 

Conservatives in particular should not fall into an outdated Russophobia, because, for us, any nation expressing its particular identity with pride and confidence is a natural friend, a friend against common enemies:  the leveling forces of globalism, unrestrained materialism, radical Islam, and nation-destroying mass immigration by Third Worlders.

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Below is a link to my Kosovo Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel.  The comments on the on-line version are surprisingly pro-Serb.  I guess people everywhere are fed up with wars being waged over half-baked abstractions like Democracy and Self-Determination. 

Here’s an excerpt:

No one believes that the Kosovar Albanians will act as tolerant stewards of a multicultural society. Since 1999, Kosovar extremists have destroyed Christian churches and monasteries and expelled thousands of Serbs in a campaign that one NATO commander described as “ethnic cleansing.”

History has not been kind to the Serbs. After World War II, the communist regime murdered Serbians en masse who fought against the Nazi invaders. In the 1990s, though all sides committed atrocities in the Balkans, Americans and Europeans singled out the Bosnian Serbs for condemnation. The hypocrisy reached its peak in 1995 when the West remained silent as well-armed Croatian forces expelled 200,000 Serbs from Bosnia’s Krajina region. Today in Kosovo, the holy land of the Serbs, the West has explicitly approved the nationalist aims of the Albanians by recognizing an independent Kosovo.

This is a bigger issue than Serbia. Once again, the United States has needlessly provoked Russia. In recent years, we’ve meddled in its Ukrainian neighbor’s elections and pushed NATO’S boundaries farther eastward. In 1999, a weak Russia could do little to support its Serbian ally. But today Vladimir Putin’s Russia is strong, and its patience with the West has worn thin.

We may soon find that we have insulted Russia one time too many.

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