"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ukraine, Russia, And The Hypocrisy Of US Foreign Policy

The term ‘spheres of influence’, so disparaged when used by Russia, has always been accepted part and parcel of American foreign policy.  Latin America and the Caribbean were ‘ours’, and no political, economic, or military investment was spared to keep Cuba within an American orbit.  There was simply no way that America could possibly have an overtly hostile, Communist country ninety miles from Florida, one which was supplied with armaments, military advisors, and offensive weaponry by a foreign power.

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Similarly there no way that Communism would be allowed to take hold in Chile, a country with significant resources of of copper, so the overthrow of a legitimately elected president was in order. 

 The generals of Argentina were militantly anti-Communist, so regardless of the brutality of their methods, the disappearances of ordinary citizens, and the police state run by Pinochet, Argentina would remain our ally.  

In the 1950s and early 60s, America supplied the dictatorships of Brazil with resources for their police forces, both covert and above-ground, regardless of the anti-democratic  ways in which they were to be used, all in the name of fighting the Communist menace. America’s military interventions in the civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua were designed to halt Communist advances in those countries regardless of their right-wing death squads, para-military extremists, and corrupt regimes. 

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The United States invaded Latin America well before anti-Communism became the policy of the day.  It invaded Puerto Rico in Cuba in 1898; and Mexico during the Revolution.  Haiti was occupied from 1915-1934; Guatemala in 1954; the Philippines between 1899-1946.

Our sphere of influence was not only restricted to the Western Hemisphere.  America’s fateful adventurism in Southeast Asia was simply an extension of the same self-protective geopolitical policy.  The Domino Theory was the rule of the day.  If Vietnam fell to the Communists, so would Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand; and Communist influence would be felt throughout Asia.

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Within our borders Thomas Jefferson in 1803 claimed one of America’s first spheres of influence – the entire territory between the Atlantic and the Pacific - and no Native American claims to land or historical right would get in our way. 

Given this history it seems strange that America does not see the irony in roundly condemning Russia for claiming similar spheres of influence.  Russia has the same geopolitical vision as the United States has always had; and looked at from this nationalistic perspective Putin is not the evil autocrat now portrayed, but simply as nationalistic, xenophobic, and as aggressive as the United States has always been.

The hypocrisy is not restricted to history.  America’s current volte face on energy is perhaps the most obvious.  Given the country’s sudden realization that energy dependence means being held hostage to its enemy and our economic adversaries; and that a withdrawal of Russian energy will mean a spike in domestic fuel prices, it is no surprise that it has given environmentalism a bye, a quick shuffle into the wings while the XL Pipeline, fracking, and oil shale are now center stage.  The climate is not so important after all.  The price at the pump and punishing Russia are what counts.  We can always return to environmentalism when things calm down.

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The biggest hypocrisy of all is our reluctance to engage the Russians and militarily challenge their invasion of Ukraine.  All the financial and economic sanctions in the world will not stop the Anschluss and the Blitzkrieg, the death of thousand of civilians, the destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure, and the forced migration of tens of thousands of displaced persons.  

Putin had been planning this takeover of Ukraine for years, and of course knew that when he invaded the country, the West would impose punitive sanctions.  He might have underestimated Western will and the extent to which they would subject their own populations to hardship, but he certainly knew restrictive times would come after his troops crossed the border.  He without a doubt has the resources to fight a long battle and to keep his economy running.  In other words, the war will go on until Russia says it's over.

In other words, the United States is a paper tiger, growling, showing its claws, roaring, but doing nothing.  No air support for Ukrainian troops, no boots on the ground, no heavy weaponry, no tanks.  “We’re with you all the way, Ukraine”, says President Biden, “but sorry, maybe another time”.

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And why is this? It is because Ukraine is simply not that important. It doesn’t really matter if Russia takes all of it or a part of it.  After all, we looked the other way when Russia absorbed Crimea.  Ukraine is not a real country but an academic principle.  It must remain independent not because it has real geopolitical worth but because it stands for sovereignty, democracy, and the rule of law.  

A war with Russia would be cataclysmic and would quickly expand in all directions.  It would be World War III, and no one wants that.  Neither does Russia of course, but it has never signaled its reticence or reluctance.  As far as the West is concerned, nuclear conflict is part of the Russian geopolitical algorithm.  Putin means business, better keep clear.

Putin of course has known this all along. He knew that Biden could be had, backed down, and exposed as the weak, timorous, declining, unsure president that most Americans have already seen. 

There are those who say that one should never take politicians at their word.  What they say before elections is not what they say after.  They bend with the wind and believe one thing one day and another the next, so there is no point in either looking at history or political policy.  

Of course there’s a point because our adversaries get it.  Putin knows that environmentalism is a peacetime issue that can be traded in at any moment; that America is a fat cat, satisfied, soft nation without much real political will; that its leaders have never read Machiavelli or Kissinger and have a fanciful, idealistic belief in progress and a more peaceful, verdant world.  We are patsies, easy marks, children trying to play an adult game.

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The eventual takeover of Ukraine seems inevitable.  Without external military support, the country cannot possibly defeat the Russians and send them back to Moscow.  However because of their staying power and some surprising miscalculations of the Russian military the takeover will take far longer than it should, and more people are dying.  The only sensible thing for Ukraine to do since defeat is a near certainty, is to strike a deal with the Russians, a deal which probably could have been negotiated before the invasion if the West had not encouraged Ukrainian military defiance.  Yes, the deal would favor the Russians, but so what?  It would certainly be no worse for Ukraine than what would be the reality once Moscow sits in power in Kyiv.

It is likely that China will be the big winner in all this.  It has a great stake in world peace, but no immediate political interest in either Russia or the EU, and so could be an honest broker.  If it is, its world stature will be brightened, and its role as the major player in world politics finally established.  It will have the political influence and the financial and economic power to become the world’s one superpower.

The United States will be relegated to a minor position.  Its pusillanimity and refusal to fight will not be forgotten around the world, and its own history of invasion and political imposition will come to the fore.  A new world order, often talked about, will emerge.

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