Conflict Resolution in Human Evolution
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The obsession of both the U.S. Congress and the American mainstream media with alleged Russian computer hacking into our 2016 presidential election campaign represents to me not only a dangerous provocation of a nuclear-armed adversary, but a display of abject hypocrisy. It's hardly a secret that America itself has, since the end of World War II, regularly interfered in other countries' politics in ways that, by comparison, make the Russian hacking seem like frat-house hijinks. In addition to devastating wars that killed millions of civilians in Korea and Vietnam, those interventions include the stage-managed overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Chile; post-9/11 armed aggression aimed at, and achieving, regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; ongoing drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia; and an escalating role in the Syrian civil war. Bearing more directly on Russian-American relations, the U.S. also engaged in efforts at what might be euphemistically termed "democracy building" in two former Soviet states, supporting anti-Russian, pro-Western forces in the now independent nations of Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in both 2004 and 2013.
America's most serious provocation of Russia has been its post-Cold War expansions of the NATO alliance right up to Russia's borders. Those in-your-face power plays led to the rise of Vladimir Putin, an avowed nationalist leader who took tough actions against the West in Georgia and Ukraine, and will surely do so again to prevent further incursions that he believes threaten Russian national security. In the meantime, according to the U.S. intelligence community, the Russian government took the seemingly desperate, but non-lethal, retaliatory step in the run-up to last year's U.S. presidential election of hacking into the private email communications of the Democratic National Committee and disseminating "fake news" invidious to Hillary Clinton. The motive seems to have been a very long-odds hope that the email content and fake news might in some way sufficiently compromise Clinton in the eyes of American voters to shift the election to Donald Trump, whom the Russians believed to be less inflexibly hostile to their own pursuit of vital national interests.
The chance that the Russian hacking actually changed the outcome of the U.S. election seems to me very small, for two basic reasons. First, I think we can assume that most American voters, based on a long history of reflexive, not reflective, voting patterns, would not bother to read or even seriously consider the content of hijacked emails dealing with the sausage-making details of Democratic Party campaign strategy. Nor would they in substantial numbers bother to dig up wild stories about Hillary from obscure Internet sources. And, second, we now also know there were no revelations about Clinton in the emails sufficiently tawdry to disaffect her supporters. Still, leading American politicians and the mainstream press and cable news networks can't seem to get enough of harping on Russian nefariousness and urging appropriate punishments.
It would seem, of course, that if the U.S. wants other nations to refrain from interfering in its elections, it might first abandon its own policy of bringing down by force any foreign governments it doesn't like. Instead, with little internal or external opposition to stop it, the U.S. continues to robotically employ economic sanctions and the threat or reality of its armed might to punish any nations that stand in the way of its continued global dominance. To help justify those actions, its political leaders and media supporters reflexively demonize the aspirations and moral integrity of the leaders of adversary nations. As a case in point, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, is routinely represented not only as a ruthless autocrat who doesn't play by international rules, but as a peasant-like bully and murderer of political opponents. A recent Forbes online article by contributor Kenneth Rapoza, however, seems to challenge that characterization.
The Oliver Stone Interviews of Putin.
In the past few weeks, the Oliver Stone interviews of Putin, aired on the premium cable channel "Showtime," have been a subject of considerable interest--though they have received little attention in the mass media. What coverage there has been has in the main simply derided Stone's questioning as overly deferential and lacking in prosecutorial rigor, or dismissed Putin's responses as evasive or self-serving. However, an article by Forbes online contributor Kenneth Rapoza about the third of four segments of the interviews seems to me to offer a rare glimpse into Putin's fundamental views as both a Russian nationalist and world leader. After observing that "Russia has become worse than ISIL to some regular talking-head Senators in Washington and is the new bogeyman in cable news rooms," Rapoza goes on to distil both the atmosphere and content of the interview exchanges, extracting representative comments from Putin and often adding insightful elaboration of his own. Some examples:
Putin complains about George W. Bush's 2001 decision to vacate the anti-ballistic missile treaty, saying he feared ABM systems in eastern Europe, the North Sea, Alaska, and, eventually, even Ukraine would be aimed at his country. From Putin's perspective, of course, such a prospect is untenable, since even the theoretical capacity to negate a retaliatory response might embolden NATO to launch a nuclear first-strike against Russia. In the meantime, Russia's only recourse would be to build up its own offensive nuclear capacity, diverting funds from needed domestic investments and moving the world nuclear clock even closer to midnight. "Our goal is a strategic balance of power between nations," Putin says. "Destroying the balance of power is a mistake."
Stone asks Putin why, in light of America's belligerent posture toward Russia, does he keep calling the U.S. "partners." Putin replies: "Because the dialogue must continue." In answer to Stone's follow-up questions, whether the U.S. would be dominant in a hot war and, if so, whether Russia would survive it, Putin says sensibly: "No one survives it. That is why it is so important to stop unilateral actions." Rapoza's own parenthetical comment on the full exchange is that, just as Bernie Sanders's supporters rant about capitalist empires, Putin raves about a universal American system without sovereignty that is protected by military bases. "If you don't like that," the writer observes, "then you and Putin are of like minds."
In Rapoza's view, American progressives also share Putin's exasperation with the influence on U.S. foreign policy of the so-called Neocons, the right-wing version of the Democratic Party's liberal interventionists--most notably Hillary Clinton--who see war as a way to protect human rights. "Washington on the foreign policy front never changes," Putin tells Oliver Stone. Citing as an example Obama's wish to close the Guantanamo prison in Cuba, Putin laments that "The power of the U.S. bureaucracy is so real that when they [newly elected presidents] get to Washington, they see how hard it is to effect change." When Stone adds that he fears the Neocons are career war gamers who believe a full-scale clash with Russia is winnable, Putin responds, "I fear them, too." Putin also expresses the view that Russia will remain a U.S. target as long as it promotes a multi-polar world and Russia stands in the way of regime change in Syria and Iran.
The Way Out: Make Diplomacy the Default Means for Resolving Conflict, Not War.
For me, Putin's responses in the Oliver Stone interview suggest that he is in fact committed to pursue his role as Russia's nationalist leader in a way that both rationally meets the vital interests of his own country and remains open to resolving conflict with the U.S. through diplomacy and compromise. This is so, despite Putin's expressed belief that the foreign policy of the Washington bureaucracy "never changes"--perhaps because he sees it, along with many politically-progressive Americans, as stuck in the ideological fantasy of American "exceptionalism" and its implied right to continually reinforce or expand its strategic and economic domination of the world. What is of overriding importance and offers hope for both the American and Russian people, however, is that no issues that separate their respective governments are outside the scope of reasonable compromise; nor should they be allowed to stand in the way of the immense good the two countries can do for the world by working constructively together.
That assessment leads me to an obvious question: If we can deal fairly to resolve differences with the only nation in the world whose nuclear arsenal approaches the magnitude of our own, why should we not give peace a chance? We certainly can't justifiably defend a failure to do so by continuing to feign moral indignation over Russia's cyber-intrusion into our presidential election. That belief is reinforced for me in a Huffington Post article, dated July 27, 2016, in which co-authors Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney validate in detail their assertion that "for more than 100 years, without any significant break, the U.S. has been doing whatever it can to influence the outcome of elections--up to and including assassinating politicians it has found unfriendly ." Considered in the factual context of moral neutrality, the current wave of Russia-bashing seems to me far more the reciprocal product of the American government's own poverty of spirit in failing to pursue, when conditions were ripe, a constructive relationship with the world's second-biggest nuclear power. Just think of the benefits and uplift the U.S. and Russia could bring to their own people and the world by working together today! A short list might include finding a way to peace in Syria, controlling international terrorism, starting nuclear disarmament, reducing global warming, and spearheading a drive to end world hunger and poverty.
Unfortunately, America's political leadership seems resistant to looking at issues of international policy not only from its own point of view, but also from the other guy's. The American people, too, have a way of convincing themselves that, by fighting wars in behalf of their nation, they are best serving the cause of peace. It is also true that, although America, Russia and most other developed nations of the world are becoming increasingly interdependent, it is not yet clear that any of them would be willing to accept the small, but necessary, curbs on their own aspirations to power that are necessary to resolve stubborn conflicts without going to war. What can't be denied, however, is that, without such compromise, the world can easily become embroiled in a use of force that will surely put an end to all armed conflict, but only by blotting out a large portion of the human race in an instant inferno and leaving those who survive to the deadly rot of radioactive fallout. Given that reality, we American citizens must do all we can to convince our government to choose negotiated compromise, not superior power, as the default means for settling international disputes. The choice our government makes, it seems to me, will determine whether we are headed to the good life as a world community, or very possibly Armageddon.