Cross-posted from Consortium News
American diplomacy, by definition, is supposed to advance the national interests of the United States, not contribute to international crises that undermine those interests. Yet, by that standard, the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry have failed extraordinarily during the current Ukraine crisis.
Besides ripping Ukraine apart -- and getting scores of Ukrainians killed -- the U.S.-supported coup in February has injected more uncertainty into Europe's economy by raising doubts about the continued supply of Russian natural gas. Such turbulence is the last thing that Europe's fragile "recovery" needs as mass unemployment now propels the rise of right-wing parties and threatens the future of the European Union.
There's also the problematic impact of pulling Ukraine out of Russia's orbit and locking it into Europe's: the scheme would shift the financial burden for Ukraine's impoverished population of 45 million people onto Europe's back, even as the EU is straining to meet the human needs of the jobless in Greece, Spain and other countries devastated by the Great Recession.
One of Ukraine's principal exports to Europe has been low-wage Ukrainian workers, including participants in the criminal underworld, most notably prostitution. The willingness of Ukrainians to take the lowest-paying jobs across Europe has exacerbated the Continent's unemployment situation and is sure to become an even bigger problem if a bankrupt Ukraine is more fully integrated into Europe.
Plus, the State Department's endless stoking of tensions between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin has caused other complications for U.S. foreign policy, including what is emerging as an historic rapprochement between China and Russia, a coming together highlighted by the signing of a major new gas deal on Wednesday.
The $400 billion pact means that Putin, in effect, has countered U.S. efforts to use limited U.S./EU sanctions to isolate Russia by deftly playing the China card and aligning the two emerging countries as an economic and political counter-force to American dominance.
Though the natural gas deal has been in the works for months, the Ukraine crisis provided the urgency to get the agreement signed. The crisis also provided the impetus to solidify the closer geopolitical bonding between China, the world's ascending economy, and Russia, its resource-rich neighbor.
The two longtime adversaries, who faced off as communist rivals during the Cold War, have joined together recently as a bloc on the United Nations Security Council to block Western initiatives on Syria, for instance. That means that instead of isolating Russia at the UN, the State Department's hawkish approach to Ukraine has had the opposite effect. Russia now has a new and powerful ally.
The Ukraine crisis could inflict other collateral damage on President Obama's initiatives toward resolving thorny disputes around Syria's civil war and Iran's nuclear program. In both areas, President Putin provided important assistance to President Obama in securing agreements: Syria to surrender its chemical weapons and Iran to accept constraints on its nuclear activity.
Though the Russians have not pulled out of those U.S. collaborations yet, the strains over Ukraine -- if they are not eased -- could undermine valuable cooperation toward reaching resolution of those two complicated and dangerous Mideast problems.
Pouring Fuel in the Fire
Yet, even as President Putin and other Russian leaders have tempered their rhetoric regarding Ukraine in recent weeks, the U.S. State Department continues to talk tough, bombarding Putin with both warnings and insults.
Typical were the comments in the lead story of the Washington Post on Saturday with writer Karen DeYoung quoting State Department and other U.S. officials berating Putin despite his conciliatory remarks about his willingness to work with the new Ukrainian government that will emerge from a disputed election on Sunday.
"Western governments express deep uncertainty at what Russia will do, and it was symptomatic of their equally deep mistrust of Putin that few took him at his word [about working with the new government]. U.S. officials parsed his language as leaving a hole big enough to drive a brigade of Russian soldiers through."
The Post quoted the harsh rhetoric emanating from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who told the Russians: "Pull the rest of your troops back. ... Put your money where your words are. Come on."
DeYoung herself termed the Russian military deployment along Ukraine's eastern border "threatening," but didn't mention the Russian rationale for the initial deployment, as an effort to deter the slaughter of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine who objected to the violent overthrow of their elected President Viktor Yanukovych. This context of what's happening in eastern Ukraine is almost always missing.