Friday, April 04, 2008

NATO, Iraq, Russia, and Wrong Directions

So the headlines today read that "81 percent" of Americans think the country is on "the wrong track."

Perhaps the lack of real debate and original thinking on Iraq has contributed.

Perhaps when pundits convince us that success is really failure--so that the Bucharest summit, instead of being seen as largely positive, is seen as a setback.

Presidents Bush and Putin meet in Sochi in the aftermath of the Bucharest summit. I'll be able to give my two cents/two kopecks on that at the meeting being organized by the Robert Taft Club on Monday. Meanwhile, Tom Graham lays out what he thinks could be an effective agenda for the Bush-Putin meeting.

Nik, you fail to see. The US foreign policy elite are determined on somehow achieving a final triumph over Moskau, the focus of evil in the modern world. Thus, the fact that Putin would dislike something is a decisive argument in its favor, and the failure to get a MAP for the Russophobic Georgian and Ukrainian elites is a defeat.

Get it straight, or you will lose your US Foreign Policy Elite Sekret Decoder Ring.
Nicholas Gvosdev:

I am glad you published the rather different take on Bucharest by Anatol Lieven in your magazine.

Having pointed out that the already great dangers of expanding NATO to Georgia or the Ukraine could be greatly exacerbated if the currently unfolding economic crisis turns very nasty, Lieven goes on to produce a damning indictment of the frivolity of thinking involved:

'Leaving aside domestic political calculations in the United States, what this whole process reflects is the profound infantilism of many of the Western attitudes concerned. In the United States, the infantile illusion of omnipotence, whereby it doesn’t matter how many commitments the United States has made elsewhere—in the last resort, the United States can always do what it likes; in much of Western Europe, the infantile syndrome of dependence on the United States, nurtured by a profound desire not to have to think and act in an adult fashion concerning the needs and costs of European defense; and in Eastern Europe, an infantile obsession with historical grudges against Russia.'


In the world of real threats, meanwhile, NATO is, as Lieven points, in danger of a defeat in Afghanistan. Developments in Pakistan, moreover, raise the unnerving possibility that the crucial supply lines through that country might come into question.

The former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar was reporting not long ago in Asia Times Online that Moscow is engaged in consultations with the governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as regards a possible land corridor to be made available to NATO. Some comments from Bhadrakumar's piece:

'Washington faces an acute predicament insofar as Moscow won't settle for selective engagement by NATO as a mere transit route but will incrementally broaden and deepen the engagement, and major European allies might welcome it. Moscow insists on the involvement of the CSTO and even SCO. On the other hand, Russia's involvement could invigorate the NATO mission in Afghanistan and ensure that the mission is not predicated on the highly unpredictable factor of Pakistan's partnership.


Should there not be a real debate about the price that the Russians might want, the costs of paying it -- and the possible costs and dangers of not paying it? Or is this the kind of 'realist' thinking which people can practice in New Delhi -- or Moscow -- but is rarely practised in Washington or London? (Thomas Graham is an honourable exception -- but then it was Graham, was it not, who in 1995 published one of the relatively rare Western accounts of the implications of 'shock therapy' in Russia which had some connection with reality?)

An ironic element in all this is that, insofar as 'realism' is supposed to be a theory about how states actually behave, the infantilism to which Lieven refers suggests it is a theory of limited and erratic application -- rather like 'rational choice' theory. It may well be that Putin and Medvedev operate on 'realist' principles -- but most in the American (and British) political elites patently do not. But then, the communist era has given Russians brutal lessons about the dangers of pursuing foreign policies based upon fantasy visions of the world.
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