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Violating Someone's "Sphere of Influence" Can Be Dangerous

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By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

What is it about American foreign policy that constantly gets the U.S. military involved in another country or region and then winds up with our troops bogged down in a dimly understood local conflict? Are our strategists and international experts missing something?

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    When other countries stir up trouble in Latin America or the Caribbean, the U.S. regards this as a violation of its hegemony (the Monroe Doctrine) in its home "sphere of influence." But we seem unable to comprehend that other major countries have their own "spheres of influence" in their regions - Russia in Eastern Europe, Iran in the Persian Gulf area, China in Asia, for example - which they feel very strongly about and are willing to defend by force of arms, if necessary.

    Such U.S. ignorance (which derives from a belief that America as the world's self-designated Good Guy and lone superpower can do whatever it wants) inevitably leads to big trouble. For instance, even with the U.S. spread thin and quagmired in Iraq and Afghanistan, the CheneyBush regime seems anxious to provoke a major quarrel with a resurgent Russia in a relatively minor regional dispute in the Caucasus.

    In the midst of the juicy theatre of presidential campaigns, it might be wise for all of us to step back and attend to that foreign-policy reality and to consider the grim implications of a renewed Cold War between the U.S. and Russia.

    The Larger Picture

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    I'm not just referring to the contretemps over what's happening in the Caucasus right now, especially with regard to Georgia. No, we're talking about major realignments of political, economic and military forces that, if not handled correctly, could put Russia and the U.S. into a potential active conflict.

    It's clear that John McCain and his neo-conservative backers would look forward to such a confrontation; they thrive on crisis; it's where they come alive and can roll out their black/white simplicities and threats to use force, utilize an "enemy" as their way to increase their domestic power, cranking-up the old military-industrial complex. And, at least for the purposes of the election campaign, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have joined in, using Russia as a bete noir and are warning Russia to back off and back down and back away.

    Part of the problem is that Superpower America continues to see the world almost exclusively through U.S. eyes and thus is not taking into account how the world appears to Russia and others. Thus, diplomacy is ignored and the Cold War, and potential hot wars, draw closer. And, of course, all this is taking place between two fading empires, as new major powers emerge in Asia/South Asia (China, India). Russia and the U.S., in effect, are battling for regional dominance before the new movers and shakers are fully up to speed.

    "Scare the Hell out of American People"

    To better understand the current Russia/U.S. clash in the Caucasus, and why Russia is moving so aggressively in its perceived "sphere of influence," we need a bit of historical context.

    My area of concentration in graduate school was the origin of the Cold War, and my dissertation was on the "Truman Doctrine," the governmental policy that declared for the first time that the U.S. would launch a global struggle against what was seen as a monolithic Soviet Empire bent on worldwide communist domination.

    Actually, President Truman in 1947 was mainly interested in a much smaller issue - sending financial and military aid to Greece and Turkey, to keep them safely within the Western fold - but was informed by Senate Republican leaders that the only way he'd get a large-scale aid-appropriation through Congress was to "scare hell out of the American people." So Truman refashioned his message by talking about a Soviet Union moving toward "worldwide domination" through the use of force, a red menace that had to be stopped in its tracks before it conquered the globe.

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    Thus the Truman Doctrine was born, Greece and Turkey got their money, and the U.S. from that time forward was locked-into battling "world communism" wherever it seemed to be raising its head. The result was that the U.S. sent massive cash infusions to dictators all over the globe who claimed they were "fighting communism." (Similar today to any tinpot dictator who claims to be "fighting terrorism.") In reality, much of that anti-communist U.S. money went into Swiss bank accounts or was used to crush reform movements in those countries, the effect of which was to push reformers toward revolutionary options. The debacle in Vietnam can be traced back to the ramifications of that earlier Truman Doctrine.

    Please don't misunderstand me. Stalinist communism (like fundamentalist Islam today) was a despicably brutal, totalitarian system. And Stalin was a monstrous authoritarian leader, who did entertain theoretical/ideological dreams of communist uprisings abroad. But, though he was a certifiable paranoid, Stalin was not a madman in how he related to the outside world. Despite the conventional myth, he had no desire or ability (don't forget that 20 million Soviet citizens lost their lives in World War II) to take over the world by force.

    Soviets' Need for a Buffer

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www.crisispapers.org
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
 

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