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A good old American tug on the fraying fabric of peace

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Philip Kraske     Permalink
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Imagine how different Ukraine would be today if the U.S. and -- prodded by the U.S. -- the European Union had not put their weight behind the Maidan Revolution. Lacking that sweet five billion bucks that Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland bragged about, the rebels would not have overturned the government. The country would be simmering, rather than shooting, and united at least in their disgust with their corrupt government. And Crimea would still be Ukrainian.

Imagine how different if the U.S. had favored, publicly and privately, negotiations between the pro- and anti-Russian elements in both the capital and around the country. This, together with an electoral, by-the-book change in the government might have been a truly salutary watershed in the country's politics.

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The Cold War -- how the U.S. military must be rubbing its hands! -- might not have been rekindled. And Russia, for its part, might not have been stuck once again with its reputation for hegemony.

"All around, the fabric of peace and order is fraying," New York Times columnist David Brooks lamented this past week. "The leaders of Russia and Ukraine escalate their apocalyptic rhetoric. The Sunni-Shiite split worsens as Syria and Iraq slide into chaos. China pushes its weight around in the Pacific."

Yet the first two crises -- Ukraine and the Sunni-Shiite conflict -- are surely the result of Amercian bumbling, the latter the aftershock of America's ham-fisted invasion of Iraq. As to China, what weight is he referring to? Their half-hearted squawking about the Senkaku/Diaoyu isles, which Japan also claims? The Chinese government has not lifted a finger regarding "illegal" flyovers of the islands, which makes one wonder if the government isn't just making a gesture to domestic constituencies, like the military or the business elite who wants to exploit the area's oil and gas deposits. At any rate, the government is evidently not willing to throw any weight into the air over the issue.

Brooks quite rightly praises the system of foreign affairs going back to the Treaty of Westphalia, which protects "the desire for regional dominance and the desire to eliminate diversity." And he goes on to decry that "China, Russia and Iran have different values, but all oppose this system of liberal pluralism."

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Surely he has forgotten recent American history. Has regional dominance anywhere been greater than America's in Latin America over the past century? Its foreign-policy domination of west Europe has been only slightly less great. And as to pluralism and diversity, who can forget Condoleeza Rice's carefree statement in an August 2008 Foreign Affairs issue, "Indeed, we have shown that by marrying American power and American values, we could help friends and allies expand the boundaries of what most thought realistic at the time." The list of abandoned, scarred offspring from that unhappy marriage lengthens every year.

"Preserving that hard-earned [liberal, pluralistic system] ecosystem requires an ever-advancing fabric of alliances, clear lines about what behavior is unacceptably system-disrupting, and the credible threat of political, financial and hard power enforcement," Brooks concludes, and he's again right.

Yet America's blissful disregard for international law seems not to trouble him. From many possible examples, take drone attacks. They are a "system-disrupting" element if there ever was one. What excuses will the State Department make when Syria uses them against rebels? Or when China zaps a dissident in Manila or Jakarta? Or when Russia sends them to Ukraine? Just when international law was getting some real post-World War II force and character, along came the neocons to shatter it, and Obama to make sure the pieces never get put back together.

For what is most troubling about Brooks's article -- and many others like it from conservative policy circles -- is how they cannot see America's own contribution to the unraveling of international relations. Or rather, they can see it, but they cannot talk about it. A recent article by the excellent Times business columnist Gretchen Morgenson offers a look at the small world of important opinion leaders and policy-makers. She is referring to the financial world in this quote, taken from the book by Elizabeth Warren, "A Fighting Chance," but it can be applied as well to the airy world of foreign affairs.

"After dinner, Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice," Ms. Warren writes. "I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don't listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People -- powerful people -- listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don't criticize other insiders."

Ms. Morgenson followed up the quote: "A spokeswoman for Mr. Summers did not respond to a request for comment."

Of course not: why respond to outsiders?

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We outsiders have the luxury of looking at the world much more realistically than Mr. Brooks and wondering why America is doing so much to break down and dominate the international system. We wonder why the American government is so intent on trying to break Ukraine off from Russia and make an enemy of President Putin, whose behavior on the international scene, at least, has been basically responsible, if we remember his cooperation on Syria, Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. He hasn't deserved the White House snubbing, especially Obama's refusal to go to the Sochi Olympic Games.

William Pfaff, the veteran foreign-affairs commentator, said tellingly: "Tact seems a quality long abandoned in an America where officials communicate in obscenities." Putin has given up trying to please the Americans, and you can hardly blame him.

But it's Condoleeza Rice and David Brooks and his blinkered band of brothers who control the policy and the airwaves. We outsiders can only stand around saying whatever we want as we watch the fabric of peace and order fraying all around us.


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I was born in Detroit in 1959, though I lived my formative years in Stillwater, Minnesota, a town just south of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, or at least one of the villages he based it on. I graduated from Stillwater High in 1977 and from the (more...)

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