Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bad Russia, No Biscuit

In today's Los Angeles Times, Madeleine Albright and William Perry jointly wrote an op-ed piece that condemns John McCain's latest anti-Russia proposal: to kick them unceremoniously out of the G-8. The argument should be familiar, but with a twist: engagement and diplomacy, not humiliation, is the way to massage Russia back towards democracy. The twist is the "humiliation" aspect. Too often, American politicians misunderstand the American role in the world. When other countries "dis" us, we don't become humiliated - we get angry. That's because we know, at heart, that we're the uberdog. Other countries like China and Russia (even Iran) crave American approval. They want to be play with the big boys. And they take grievous offense when we try to "punish" them like this. McCain, who has already insulted Putin a number of times personally, sees no reason not to go down that road again. As with Iran, McCain's neoconservative view is that you preach and bully, and - if they still don't do your bidding - use military force. In Russia's case, it's all about building a missile shield in former East bloc countries even inducting pieces of the former USSR (the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia) into NATO (so that US troops can occupy former Soviet military bases and - in the Russian view - gloat in Cold War victory).

Only in China does McCain get it. He has said, intelligently enough, that if we talk like China is an enemy, we will make "her" an enemy (like Bush, McCain has this weird archaic and vaguely sexist habit of referring to countries as feminine). Why does McCain (and why do other neocons) understand this vis-a-vis China but nowhere else? My gues is the Nixon syndrome. They all "know" that Nixon was "brave" and "statesmanlike" in opening up China (and that Bush senior did right in ignoring the Tienanmen massacr). That, and the collapse of the Soviet Union (which isn't Reagan's doing, but they claim it anyway, and the so-called liberal media eats it up) are the only two foreign policy victories Republican can count since Teddy Roosevelt opened the Panama canal. So they are institutionally bound to approve of China policies of engagement, and too intellectually limited to follow them anywhere else.

Whatever you think about Russia and Vladimir Putin (and I know we disagree on this blog) I hope you agree that it is to nobody's benefit to treat the bear like a dog.


Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, kicking the Russians out of the G8 is a dumb idea. Russia is going in the wrong direction and Putin is bad news. And while wringing our hands about how important it is to make Russians "feel" like bigshots and help them get their neo-colonial place in the sun is a silly plan, kicking them around is a bad idea too.

But we shouldn't white wash the fact that the problem is with the Russians as well as with McCain et al. McCain is being foolish and trying to ape Reagan to score political points. But Putin et al are using their huge windfalls from oil and gas exports to kick around their neighbors all while handing out the "goodies" at home in sufficient quantity to keep the Russian masses blinded by thoughts of renewed empire.

We need to deal with all that somehow. I'm not sure how in the short run - I haven't given it much thought. But in the long run, finding a viable alternative to fossil fuels would force the Russian government to be more efficient at home and more polite internationally.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I completely agree. Kicking Russia out of the G8 summit is ridiculous! I am starting to believe that trading Bush for McCain could actually worsen our foreign policy, something I had previously thought impossible. More damaging than the cowboy antics of an idiot is the vindictiveness of a bitter old man.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not sure if "renewed empire" is really what this is about. From what I understand, the reach of Putin's fingers outside Russia is largely confined to what the Yeltsin-era government politely called the "near abroad" - areas that formed part of the former Soviet Union (and where relict Russian populations remain). There's no intervention in Poland, Turkey, Mongolia, etc. I'm not saying this is great, I'm saying you have to understand the difference between expansionism and old habits.

As for Russia's newfound petroleum wealth - that's not going away eveb if we were to turn exclusively to acorns for fuel.

How to deal with it? Well, if we insist on boxing in Russia or denying it great power status, it will use these crude, adolescent methods to press outward. The goal must be to persuade Russia to act like a grown-up great power with responsibilities. Kicking them out of the G-8 is exactly backwards.

Again, China policy is instructive. China is far less democratic than Russia and has a worse human rights record. Its foreign policy is also more troublesome than Russia's, getting its fingers in Africa and elsewhere. China is also just way more powerful economically. Yet we do not see McCain (or RBR) wringing his hands over China. Rather, patient engagement is urged. That is the right policy for Russia, too. Imagine if McCain had said of Hu Jintao, "When I look into his heart, I just see three letters: M-A-O."

Why is China, which has never had a free election in its history, which uses prisoners for slavery and body parts and executes people without a semblance of due process, *less* vehemently condemned by neocons than Russia -which has had elections at all levels since 1991, albeit with varying degrees of fairness and openness? Why is Sinophilia so less odious than Russophilia? Is it just that China is richer?

USWest said...

We trade more with China and they hold a great deal of our debt. You don't bite the hand that feeds. Also, I think we understand the Chinese better. My experience with the Chinese is that they are more straight forward and pragmatic to deal with than some of these other powers. And they handle themselves as professionals rather than "adolescents" like the Russian's are now doing. Their motives are clear.

I was sort of guffawing this morning when NPR reported on Russia's perception that putting parts of the missile defense shield in the Czech Republic was a threat to them somehow. Well, it would be if we were planning on attack Russia, which we aren't to my knowledge. So is Russia planning something that would make us want to attack them?

And I am struck by the first response from McCain and the Republicans always being violence. Obama's response was again, diplomatic. Violent responses are always blunt instruments.

Then consider what Russia is doing in places like Georgia, tormenting them to the umpteenth degree. I firmly believe that the recent bombings in Abkhazia were Russian run and inspired. I do not think for a minute that the Georgians did that. Why does Russia so resist Georgian independence when it let everything else go?

As far as the G8- don't kick them out. But I don't think that is a serious proposal. It may be a threat to get attention. But I do agree that if McCain were to be elected, we would be much worse off than we are now. We always said that McCain was a wolf in sheep's clothing. And now we have the proof.

Bekalynn said...

I think the Russians ask themselves why does the US need to put missles/troops on our border, are they planning no attacking us.

Putin said it this way, it's not about intent, it's about the potential.

The Russians have always been paranoid about their borders and with good historical reason.

As for Georgia, a lot of the facts about Georgia aren't talked about. Georgia has more human rights violations than Russia. Plus, there are two areas that never wanted to be part of Georgia, even when Georgia was created in the early 1900's, and these ethnic groups immediately wanted to secede as soon as Georgia got independence. These groups would prefer to be part of the Soviet Union/Russia because they feel Russia will respect their ethnic rights better. (They aren't Russian)

Dr. Strangelove said...

Bekalynn is right, I think, that it is about potential rather than intent. It might also be simple annoyance: Putin said he did not want it there, and the US went ahead and did it anyway.

Raised By Republicans said...

"Yet we do not see McCain (or RBR) wringing his hands over China."

That's not fair. I've posted several times about China's anti-democratic tendencies too.

Bekalynn, the US had troops on the Russian/Soviet border for 50 years and never attacked. But I can see how the appearance of a missile defense system in Ukraine would look agressive.

I would think the US would do better to treat Ukraine et al like we treat Taiwan...we sell them what ever they need to fend off the Chinese but we don't put our own troops on the ground there.

Dr. S, your speculation that McCain could actually be worse than Bush is spot on. He's talking about continuing the mess in Iraq forever and we could count on him messing up our improving relations with Vietnam and exacerbating our problems with Russia and Iran.

The Law Talking Guy said...

We also don't even recognize Taiwan. To be the same policy, we would have to have a "One Russia" policy and insist on a single state solution for all of the Near Abroad.

The US did not have troops on the USSR's border for 50 years, unless you count the Bering Straits or the tiny Norwegian-Russian border. Most of our troops were in Germany or Italy, half a continent away. Now we are suggesting putting US military personnel within the borders of the former USSR.

The Law Talking Guy said...

USWest, you comment, "I think we understand the Chinese better" caused my jaw to drop. It is an amazing place we have come to after centuries of being baffled by Asia if we think we understand China better than Russia.

I think the reverse is true - I think we don't understand China at all, which is why we are able to pretend (when we want to) that they are just the World's Factory Floor or the World's ATM machine.

No, the relationship with China is purely pragmatic. We need them; we are nice to them. They are growing more powerful daily. We try engagement because confrontation is a loser, and because it works: if China is slowly liberalizing, it is in part because of exposure to the West and the gradual confidence that such exposure is not harmful. By contrast, we have taken an aggressive stance towards Russia because they are weaker. They know it, and they hate it.

USWest said...

I think we have made more of an effort to understand the Chinese than we have the Russians. We see the Chinese as part of the Communist Empire that we failed to destory. One the USSR collapsed, we sort of left Russia behind to focus on other stuff, including China.

US foreign policy toward Russia seems to be built a huge underestimations of what Russia is capable of and of what Putin is capable of. I think we have made assumtions about Russia that are so inept as to display either indifference or a serious lack of understanding of that nation and it's people. We "defeated" them and that is all we seem to see other than a concern over their nuclear security. Part of what Putin and his replacement are doing now is to remind the world that they are still very relevant.

As for the Georgian human rights record, I will leave that to my Georgian friend to disucss as she is obviously much more reliable in her knowledge of such things as I. Although, I would find it hard to imagine a worse record than Russia considering Stalin. Oh, but he was Georgian wasn't he?
Our policy toward China seems to demonstrate a much more thought out, carefully planned approach.

Anonymous said...

As for Georgia's human rights record, imagine this: take US, put it through 120 years of Russian tsar rule, then another 70 years of communism (and Stalinism that killed off entire educated class), then in a 20 year period manage to experience 50% decline in GDP and 18K% (yes, 18K%) inflation, two ethnic wars, one civil war that left the country in the hands of warlords and every criminal with a gun and only have truly a democratically elected government for less than a year, and then talk to me what kind of human rights record you would end up with. Taking all of this into consideration, we Georgian's are a shining example of success!!!

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'd prefer not to see this blog get into fights over Abkhazia and such. Georgia has been through very hard times, not all of it Russia's fault. And Russia has been through hard times too. Nobody in the West cares enough about Abkhazia to try to understand what is going on there. The Caucasus is the most linguistically, religiously, and ethnically diverse place on the planet.

It's worth remembering also that the conquest of the Caucasus was an epic part of Russian history, like the American conquest of the West, and some fights there are of Alamo-like stature to them. It's not hard to understand why Russia continues to meddle there, if only because it has done so since Peter I married a Circassian. It's also not hard to understand why the peoples of the Caucusus, some of whom resisted for centuries, are still resisting.

So what I'm saying is this: let's not try to make too many statements on this blog about what's going on in the Caucasus and why. We really don't know or understand, and the participants on all sides have no interest whatever in being objective.

USwest said...

Part of the purpose of the Blog, LTG, is to have those conversations so that we can gain a new understanding. I asked about Georgia because I wanted to know and we got some feedback. Fine with me. I apologize that the discussion isn't going along the lines you had hoped, but that is what an open forum is about. You and I may not know much, but apparently Bekalynn and anonymous do.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm sorry - I didn't mean it to come off the way it did. I've re-read my comments and they are terribly phrased. What I meant was, I didn't want to see a shouting match over Abkahzia between a Russian and a Georgian the way you sometimes see on Israel/Palestine issues. I was worried we might be headed that way.

Raised By Republicans said...

I'm not a huge fan of letting nasty governments off the hook because the country's recent history is not prosperous.

These problems in Georgia are certainly related to a poor human rights record but they are explanations, not excuses. They are useful if we are concerned with the postivist question "What causes human rights abuses in developing or transitioning countries?" But they are of little use with regard to the normative question "Should Georgia (or Russia or China or Burma or Iran or the US) improve their human rights record?"

Uswest said...

Understood, LTG. Thanks fo rthe clarification!

In the case of Georgia, I am less interested in human rights than in political motives.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR is right - the fact that economic and political woes are correlated with human rights abuses does not justify those abuses in a normative sense.

I think that, frequently, the causal arrow runs from human rights abuses TO poverty and political instability.