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Sunday, January 15, 2017

On Russia, Again

On this, the last week-end of the Obama misadministration, I charge onward, onward like Lord Cardigan  . . . Ok, Ok, I am getting carried away. It's all this talk about Russia that has me on my charger heading into the "valley of Death." I am going to repeat myself a bit, as I have written quite a lot about Russia, but events drive me "Half a league, half a league/ Half a league onward. . ."

I am deeply touched by the sudden progressive concern for the security of the United States. Most of the same people now screaming "RUSSIA!" and accusing President-elect Trump of being the Siberian Candidate, historically have opposed a strong US military, opposed efforts to fight Soviet Communism, laughed at "a Red under every bed" as paranoia, derided the CIA as murderers and coup-plotters, wanted immediate US nuclear disarmament, made fun of Romney's concerns about Russia, defended Hillary's use of an insecure server, and, well, lots more, you can fill it in. They also have opposed strong US border defense, and an immigration policy to protect us from foreign jihadis, rapists, murderers, and urban criminal gangs. Obama, the ultimate political expression of the progressive world view, gutted the US military, instructed our intel and enforcement agencies to focus on "climate change," ordered them to downplay the illegal alien and jihadi threats, tried to politicize them and shape them into extensions of the DNC (see DOJ, IRS and EPA, for example). He, in sum, turned them into purveyors of the usual progressive nonsense that has gotten us into our current socio-political-economic fix, and, by the way, led to the election of Donald Trump.

OK, let's turn to Putin and  Russia. I wrote some time ago that,
It does not require a genius to see what is happening in the post-USA world of the Obamistas. Other actors, many of them ruthless opponents of Western values of democracy and liberty, are stepping in to fill the power vacuum and reshape the world--and do it while laughing at us. Of these actors, Putin is the most determined and committed to reforming the globe into a place much less congenial for those Western values, and much friendlier to Russia's rise to the top. His plan is exceedingly simple. No Snowden-like revelations required. Taking advantage of the weakness and self-loathing of the Obama misadministration, Putin is out to neutralize Europe and make it into an economic resource for Russia, e.g., gas sales, investments, access to high tech, and to ease the US out of the picture. NATO is to be seen for what it increasingly has become, to wit, a joke.
I also noted in another 2014 piece that,
Russia almost always, if not always, has been on the edge of Western consciousness. Before anybody gets offended, there is no doubt about the greatness of Russia's contributions to the hard sciences, literature, theater, and music. Russia for numerous reasons, however, never has been fully a part of Western civilization. Starting with Peter the Great, Russia's Tsars made on-and-off, and usually half-hearted efforts to become part of the West. Those rulers were attracted to the wealth, power, and technological advancement of the West, but had little to no interest in adopting Western ideas of democracy and, especially, liberty which made that wealth, power, and technology possible. There seemed always a dark, conspiratorial, even piratical tone to Russia's relations with the West: we seeing Russia, not unreasonably, as a crude, obscurantist, dangerous bogeyman, and Russia viewing the West, not always inaccurately, as looking down on Russia and intent on preventing it from finding its rightful "place in the sun." Russia's attempts to find this "place in the sun," of course, ran into notable obstacles such as Japan's own quest for that sunny spot which generated a massive defeat for Tsarist efforts to become a major force in Asia and the Pacific, and, lest we forget, World War I which ended the Tsars and served as midwife for the even more horrid Bolshevik rule.
That, in my humble view, still proves an accurate assessment today. Russia is a big, important country, with a significant military and intelligence capability. It is governed, unfortunately, by some, ahem, very difficult people such as Vladimir Putin, who have no love or respect for democratic norms--in fairness, however, we should note more freedom exists in Russia under Putin than did in the USSR under the progs beloved Gorbachov. Russia's leaders, above all, are Russian nationalists full of resentment for the West's alleged failure to take Russian interests seriously. That said, Russia is much weaker and less dangerous than the old Soviet Union, and beset by enormous economic and demographic problems which undermine its ability, even without Western opposition, to find its "place in the sun."

We must realize, of course, that even under the best of circumstances and the best of intentions on our part, relations with Russia most likely will prove difficult. They will become even more difficult if the left's current obsession with undermining any approach to Russia continues. I can't help but think that this leftist obsession with trying to undermine Trump's ability to deal with Russia is linked, at least in part, to the fact that Russia is no longer Communist. The progs liked Communism, whatever they might claim now. That Russia loudly proclaims itself a Christian power and makes no secret of its politically incorrect animosity to jihadi Islam, has won Moscow no friends among Western progs.

How to deal with Russia? It does not involve labeling Putin and Russia as war criminals, especially since the story about what happened in Aleppo seems to be changing; the information provided by progressive folk heroes such as the "White Helmets" is coming into question. We can deal with Russia, as I stated before, by ensuring our own energy independence, having a reinvigorated and highly lethal military force, and showing less willingness to listen to the Europeans, who, with the exception of the British, have a remarkable track record of being wrong on almost every major issue for the past three hundred years. We should keep in mind that Russia has intel capabilities that it will use against us, and must be willing and able to use ours against Russia, as needed. In addition, as noted before, we frack, we stand by Israel and the Kurds, and we strengthen our military and our domestic economy. With Russia we deal on narrow, very concrete issues, and we should do OK, unless the Russians prove more irrational than I think.

For example, Russia and the US could reach an accommodation on the Middle East and on Eastern Europe that does not threaten the interests of either country or sell out our allies such as Israel and Poland. Israel, please note, is seeking better relations with Russia. Improved relations between Russia and the USA would, it seems, serve also as a counter to Chinese aspirations to become a superpower. These are not bad things. If we can achieve some of them, that's good for us and the West. The odds are against, but . . . .

To the progs, it is time to give it a rest. One proven foreign intervention in our politics came from Mexico. If you are really concerned about our sovereignty, focus on that.

22 comments:

  1. Doesn't it seem like the US and Russia could find common ground in fighting Islam? Russia as bad cop and us as good cop in facing global Islam? I would think we could work to mutual advantage where possible and not roll over in issues where we genuinely differ. But you're the actual diplomat so you tell us.

    Thanks, as always, for your wonderful commentary.

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  2. I would appreciate any comments on my view on Putin:

    The biggest possible danger to the world would be Russia, what 1/6 (? or some impressive fraction) of the world's land mass, and a nuclear power, as a failed state. Given Russia's absence of democratic tradition, history of dictatorial rule and centuries of corruption, only an authoritarian strongman/thug could have stopped post-Soviet Russia's almost collapse into a failed state. No, Putin is not fostering growth of democracy in Russia, but wow, could it be worse. As others have said, he is a rational actor. Is he so much a worse adversary than the Saudis who fund terroists and send Wahhabbi imans to radicalize young Muslims in the West and belong to consortium of Muslim countries whose stated long term goal is world-wide caliphate? (Or at this point, the British gov't which seems to have put that "dossier" in McCain's hands.Not sure whether this parenthesis is merely sarcastic or subject of real concern.)


    Questions to Diplomad:

    How did Russia's natural resources end up in hands of oligarchs? Did Gorbachav collapse communist structure so that could happen? (Note his early involvement with Club of Rome.) And what role did Jeffrey Sachs, arch global warmist/"sustainable development" type, play in where Russian resources ended up (as he advised Yeltsin on capitalism)? Who sicced him on Russia?

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  3. Very well said and argued; I agree, the needle must be threaded with great care.

    It would be far preferable to have Russia as a limited ally rather than as implacable enemy, which the Left seems to prefer.

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    1. I suspect that the Left hasn't even thought about Russia and/or Putin all that deeply (or even shallowly!) They simply take every opportunity to hammer Trump with anything that gives them the slightest opening. Downstream or unseen consequences are of no present concern.

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    2. Quite true, ColoComment. Full-blown Trump Derangement Syndrome has blossomed far quicker than Bush Derangement Syndrome did -- and Trump isn't even president yet. Wait till this coming Friday, Inauguration Day. You probably ain't seen nuthin' yet.

      The progressives' obsession with Russia for the past couple of weeks would be amusing if it weren't so nakedly opportunistic. After all, Obama gave Russia a good bit of what it wanted -- he canceled the anti-missile programs in Eastern Europe, promised and followed through on a "reset," imposed some toothless sanctions after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine, refused to arm the Ukrainians with any weapons that might be used against Russia, effectively tore up the Budapest Memorandum, caved to Putin over Syria, and (remember this?) said on a hot mic to Dmitri Medvedev in 2012 that after the election that he would have "more flexibility" in dealing with Russia.

      None of this would matter much if Russia were merely the ninth-most-populous country in the world, behind such powerhouses as Brazil and Bangladesh. In a way, it's an unusual recognition on the progressives' part that Russia matters only because because it has a huge nuclear arsenal and has the residual military and intelligence assets to show the world it's still a player.

      The problem is, this allows the progs to go down the rabbit hole in pursuit of crazy fantasies, including the one that, as Sr. DiploMad put it, Trump is the Siberian Candidate. Anything to degrade or deligitimize him, no matter how ludicrous. If anyone deserved that title, it was Obama.

      I was never a Trump fan, and I'm still not, although he's preferable to Hillary. But I'm warming up to him, in part because of the unhinged reactions he has set loose from his opponents.

      And while I think he might have praised Putin because experience has shown him that flattery helps lubricate reaching a tough deal with the guy across the table (something he shouldn't count on with Putin), it would be helpful if Trump established a workable and less-antagonistic relationship with Russia. As Eskyman notes, the needle must be threaded with great care. I hope Trump is up to the task.

      I guess we should be glad that the left didn't work up much of a lather when their hated Nixon went to China. But then, back in the day, the American left was still somewhat sane.

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  4. My wife is Polish, hence these thoughts. Trump's warming to Russia is a good thing (I hope). But he heeds to be careful not to abandon the old Christian SSRs who still view the bear with realistic fear ... human memories are not that short. I think a good first step would be to install the missile defense system that Obummer nixed. Then Russia would know he is no patsy and the Eastern Europeans would rest a little more comfortably. Then Trump still could carefully ally with Putin against the world caliphate.

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  5. Well said, DipII. I am encouraged by Tillerson's nomination. The US might finally have someone who is the intellectual equal of Lavrov. That has surely not been the case under Hillary Clinton or John Kerry.

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    1. I think the best quality that Tillerson brings to the SOS job is the wisdom to know when to walk away. JoKe and Shrillary were always panting and drooling for a deal and kept giving away more and more without getting anything in return.

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  6. "These people [Russians] have no love or respect for democratic norms". So they are natural allies for the Clintonistas, then?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Sometimes, DM, you just too smaht!
      Michael Adams

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  7. Kerry? I doubt he could have been Molotov's intellectual equal on one of Molotov's bad days....

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  8. "For example, Russia and the US could reach an accommodation on the Middle East and on Eastern Europe that does not threaten the interests of either country or sell out our allies such as Israel and Poland."

    So if you, Diplomad, were in charge of State, what would you advise the president on this exact subject? What accommodation in eastern Europe or the Middle East be appropriate to suggest?

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  9. Russia never has been fully a part of Western civilization--

    How about Bulgaria? Serbia? Romania? Greece? What of the East Roman Empire, aka Byzantium? Where, actually, does Western civilization end, and "the Rest" begin?

    I agree that Russia is a threat. But I also believe that a non-Communist Russia is not quite the threat that the former Soviet Union was. Also, I would wager that Putin, the former KGB-nik, will carry a grudge with the USA all the way to his grave. In addition to having survived the collapse of the USSR which he served, the ex-Communist Putin who has forbidden the adoption of Russian orphans by same-sex Westerners, probably also sees himself as holding the line against not only radical Islam, but also against a West determined to embrace its own degeneration (I take rumors of Putin's reconciliation with Orthodox Christianity seriously).

    The younger Bush and Obama all sought a "reset" in US-Russian relations, and the hands they proffered got bitten. I do not think Trump will be any more successful.

    But I will also say that what the post-modern West seeks to do is not always something of which I would approve. One of my wife's friends posted a video of a crowd of Taiwanese parents protesting a compulsory sex-ed course in which sixth graders were apparently required to publicly rub their own genitalia, shouting "Gay education out of our schools!" I also wonder how some Ugandan official, perhaps bearing the name of one of the forty-odd adolescent new Christians who, in 1882, refused to be sodomized by Mbaka of Buganda and got burned to death for their trouble, would read an American admonition over anti-sodomy laws remaining on the books in his country. Is he thinking that, perhaps, Mr. Obama (or, a Pres. Shrillary, with a slightly different turn of our electoral screws) wants a new playground for his friends like Terry Bean, now that southern Asia may be wising up?

    Perhaps it would be best for the USA to wait until Putin passes from the scene. It might also be wise to back away from some of our more ridiculous Silly 'Sixties and Sillier 'Seventies commitments.

    Kepha

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  10. Russia and Putin seem to have pretty clear foreign policy goals... mostly defensive posture in nature.. that I can see. Reestablish a bit of a DMZ of sorts in neighboring countries... consolidate their access to the Black Sea... but what really mystifies me is Kaliningrad. Russia/Putin *must* have some serious concerns about having that region completely exposed and potentially surrounded by (pointless) NATO countries.
    There's a lot of other jockeying around the world, but I have to imagine their main foreign policy goals is, after asking and being rejected for NATO membership, a security posture with regards to NATO. I suspect tensions would dramatically fall off if Russia's *reasonable* security concerns were addressed.
    Maybe I'm misreading this.. and really they want to pull back everything the USSR ever had and more.. dunno.

    - reader #1482

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  11. Kaliningrad is of course the Prussian Koenigsberg. Maybe some day it can be part of Lithuania or Poland.

    On Trump and Russia, surely one aspect he is considering is the Russian economy. It seems to me that a rich bear is a happy bear, more likely to stay home and enjoy himself rather than out prowling the neighborhood. What would it take to really grow and develop the Russian economy?

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  12. Many future problems in Eastern Europe were averted by a (cruel) relocation westwards of German minorities after WWII.

    What if Russia suggested that the US and EU paid for a transfer of the Russian population out of Kaliningrad? It could be presented as the US/EU purchasing Kaliningrad and then ... I don't know, use it as super-Guantanamo for illegal immigrants being ejected from the EU/USA.

    That would leave only the Russian minorities in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Moldova to worry about. Progress!

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  13. "crude, obscurantist, dangerous bogeyman"

    Which is pretty much how they view Trump.

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  14. Since Bismarck's time, the source of instability in Europe has been Germany. Three times in history Russia/USSR has been part of an alliance to defeat a would be European empire. Once, the USSR itself was the threat. We have been allied with Britain, France and Russia/USSR twice against Germany. No other country was an ally in both those wars. So, it seems to me that there is enough commonality in our and Russian interests to make possible some mutual accommodations.

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    1. I think technically it's now called "New Syria".

      - reader #1482

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    2. Speaking as someone who lost kin in the Shoah, I would like to make a few observations on Germany.

      Much of Germany's enfant terrible episode occurred as a result of Napoleonic France playing a "compel them to be free" game on a conquered Germany. The Germans latched onto France's nationalism and made it their own, but then had Ernst Arndt singing how the German Fatherland was where "jeder Deutscher heisset Freund; jeder Franzmann heisset feind." It all but predetermined that the alliance of German nationalism and conservatism would finally express itself in beating up Franc in 1871--and failing to foresee a foolish Wilhelm II who could not maintain Bismarck's careful diplomacy.

      I would also note that Germany is not only the land of jackboot nationalism (currently aped by China), but also of the federalist ideal expressed in the early 17th century in Johannes Althusius' _De Politica_. It had splendid scholars of public law including such as Otto con Giercke; and a true liberal democratic nationalism that expressed itself in 1848 (the survivors of which failed effort brought new energy to positive reforms in our own country).

      I'd be hopefully cautious about German developments. It appears there is a reaction to Merkel's reinvention of Das Volk via Muslim immigration. This is perfectly understandable in light of the lawlessness accompanying this migration.

      On the other hand, I see in Putin's behavior a kind of Russian hunger for revenge, such as plagued Germany after Napoleon. That it is post-Communist (and perhaps even critical of the Communist heritage) does not make it less of a problem.

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