Western intellectuals and the misunderstanding of power

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S., Europe Threaten to Punish Putin
Russia’s Crimea Incursion Sparks Demand for Withdrawal, Talk of Sanctions; ‘They Are Settling In’
By Jay Solomon, Carol E. Lee and Stephen Fidler | Updated March 2, 2014 10:25 p.m. ET

The U.S. and its European allies vowed Sunday to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin and punish his nation’s economy, demanding he withdraw what they called an occupation force from Ukraine’s Crimean region.

Washington began canceling joint economic and trade initiatives with Moscow, including preparations for the summit of the Group of Eight leading nations scheduled to be held in Sochi, Russia, in June.

Senior U.S. officials said the administration was also beginning discussions with Congress on implementing targeted economic and financial sanctions on Russian companies and leaders if the Kremlin didn’t begin pulling back from Crimea.

“Russian forces now have complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula, some 6,000-plus airborne and naval forces, with considerable materiel,” a senior official said. “There is no question that they are in an occupation position in Crimea, that they are flying in reinforcements, and they are settling in.”

Officials in Washington and around Europe were searching for penalties to impose on Moscow, while acknowledging military intervention wasn’t among the possibilities.

More at the link.

As you’d expect, with military action off the table, all that remains available are diplomatic and economic sanctions. But, as we noted here, Russia is the largest oil, gas, uranium and coal exporter to the European Union, and the second and third largest producer of natural gas and oil in the world, respectively.  It’s kind of cold right now for the Europeans to risk Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin turning off the gas for a while.  As for diplomatic sanctions, what are they?  We won’t allow Russia to participate in the G-8 summit?  We might call home our ambassadors?  Ooh, now those are scary!

Russia, of course, is one of the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, and can veto any Security Council resolutions President Putin doesn’t like.

The Russians already know what the West’s righteous indignation amounts to:

“They talk and talk, and then they’ll stop,” Oleg Panteleyev, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said Saturday, noting that the West had made threats that came to little when Russia waged wars in the past in Chechnya in the early 2000s and Georgia in 2008.

Yup, that’s about right.

Ukraine’s economy was already in shambles, and Russia’s was not all that strong, but Russia still has the huge economic hammer in this, with the ability to embargo the flow of natural gas and oil to Europe. Not only would it take time to replace those hydrocarbons from other sources, leaving many Europeans shivering — it is still winter, and Berlin, for example, is projected to have highs in the low fifties, with lows near freezing, for the next week — and many industries shut down, but the eventual replacement would result in skyrocketing prices for oil and natural gas, greatly damaging the Western economies. Russia could bear the economic consequences better, because those consequences would be slower to hit Russia.

The problem for the West is that we like to think that we are oh-so-evolved, with Secretary of State John Kerry whining:

You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text. It is serious in terms of sort of the modern manner with which nations are going to resolve problems.

I’m sorry, Mr Kerry, but President Putin — a former officer in the Комитет государственной безопасности — understands what you do not: in the end, the game is all about power. One would have thought that Secretary Kerry, along with President Obama, would have learned this, considering the failure of the liberal idea of “Smart Power” in dealing with people like Bashar al-Assad and the Taliban, who don’t have the first bit of respect for anything other than strength.

Suzanne Nossel, Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, is credited with coining the term in an article in Foreign Affairs entitled, “Smart Power: Reclaiming Liberal Internationalism“, in 2004:

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, conservative foreign-policy makers have united behind a clear agenda: combating terrorism, aggressively preempting perceived threats, and asserting the United States’ right and duty to act alone. Progressives, in contrast, have seemed flummoxed. Stuck on the sidelines, they advocate tactics that differ sharply from those of the Bush administration. But they have not consistently articulated a distinct set of progressive U.S. foreign policy goals.

This is a mistake. Progressives now have a historic opportunity to reorient U.S. foreign policy around an ambitious agenda of their own. The unparalleled strength of the United States, the absence of great-power conflict, the fears aroused by September 11, and growing public skepticism of the Bush administration’s militarism have created a political opening for a cogent, visionary alternative to the president’s foreign policy.

To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war. Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership — diplomatic, economic, and not least, military — to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Unlike conservatives, who rely on military power as the main tool of statecraft, liberal internationalists see trade, diplomacy, foreign aid, and the spread of American values as equally important.

After September 11, conservatives adopted the trappings of liberal internationalism, entangling the rhetoric of human rights and democracy in a strategy of aggressive unilateralism. But the militant imperiousness of the Bush administration is fundamentally inconsistent with the ideals they claim to invoke. To reinvent liberal internationalism for the twenty-first century, progressives must wrest it back from Republican policymakers who have misapplied it.

Progressives must therefore advance a foreign policy that renders more effective the fight against terrorism but that also goes well beyond it — focusing on the smart use of power to promote U.S. interests through a stable grid of allies, institutions, and norms. They must define an agenda that marshals all available sources of power and then apply it in bold yet practical ways to counter threats and capture opportunities. Such an approach would reassure an uneasy American public, unite a fractious government bureaucracy, and rally the world behind U.S. goals.

A lot more at the original. But, as Mrs Nossel condemned Bush Administration policies, telling us how well the use of progressive ideas and Western liberal notions would work around the world, she came up with this statement:

Much of the world still buys into the ideals of liberal internationalism. According to the July 2003 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, even in Muslim countries such as Lebanon, Morocco, and Pakistan, most people believe that Western-style democracy could work well for them.

That was ten years ago, and in the interim we’ve seen just how well liberal internationalism has worked in Lebanon, Morocco — which avoided the so-called “Arab Spring” through a strong monarchy — and Pakistan. We’ve seen the Islamists take over in Egypt, and then, themselves, get kicked out by the Army, we’ve seen bloody civil war in Syria, we’ve seen the failure of any real democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the utter failure, over nearly two generations, of the Arabs to pay more than lip service to a diplomatic solution to their conflict with Israel.

Mrs Nossel’s vision of “smart power” was one which was willing to use military force if necessary, though it had a definite bias in favor of other forms of power.  The naifs of the Obama Administration, despite still being engaged in the war in Afghanistan, seem to have forgotten the military power aspect of it, and have put such an emphasis on economic methods — primarily, the promising of American aid — and diplomacy as to have forgotten that there are other people out there who do not share the same goals and values as Westerners; they seem to have forgotten that there are strongmen in the world who got their positions by being strong men.  What “Western style democracy” has mean has been mostly a tool to be used to obtain power, and is then quickly abandoned once that power has been obtained.  “Western style democracy” is just what the Islamists despise, because it is so opposed to Islamic fundamentalism and shari’a law, and what President Putin used trickery to sidestep, to enable him to rule Russia for over 14 years, with another 4 years remaining in his term.

It looks like Robert Stacey Stacy McCain was on the same track, noting:

Walter Russell Mead at the Public Interest:

Politico report calls it “a crisis that no one anticipated.” The Daily Beastreporting on Friday’s US intelligence assessment that “Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine,” quotes a Senate aide claiming that “no one really saw this kind of thing coming.”

Op-eds from all over the legacy press this week helped explained why. Through the rose tinted lenses of a media community deeply convinced that President Obama and his dovish team are the masters of foreign relations, nothing poor Putin did could possibly derail the stately progress of our genius president. . . . Headlines like “Why Russia Won’t Invade Ukraine,” “No, Russia Will Not Intervene in Ukraine,” and “5 Reasons for Everyone to Calm Down About Crimea” weren’t hard to find in our most eminent publications. . . .

American experts and academics assume that smart people everywhere must want the same things and reach the same conclusions about the way the world works.

How many times did foolishly confident American experts and officials come out with some variant of the phrase “We all share a common interest in a stable and prosperous Ukraine.” We may think that’s true, but Putin doesn’t.

One hates to wear out the Munich analogies by overuse, but this was in fact exactly the attitude of British supporters of appeasement in the 1930s: Reasonable civilized people simply cannot get it through their heads that there are people in the world who are neither reasonable nor civilized, and who can only be deterred by force.

The elites who run our government and the elites who run our media share the same kind of blindness, an acquired blindness that one can only obtain by attending the finest universities.

Well, perhaps not solely by attending our finest universities; I’m sure that such attitudes could be just as easily inculcated at places like Jacksonville State University as at Harvard.

The problem is a tremendous intellectuocentrism, to coin a word. For too many people, whether the elites or otherwise, there is a real failure to grasp that notion that not everybody else thinks the way that they do. I have harped written about this many time in the past, noting all of the scholarly articles in Foreign Affairs, presenting some (usually slight) variation on a good, solid, reasonable plan for peace between Israel and the Arabs, all of which try to somehow split the differences between the sides, all of which make absolutely perfect sense to Western intellectuals, and none of which have the slightest recognition that not everybody is a Western liberal.

2 Comments

  1. Vlad the Invader has given Ukraine an Ultimatum to leave the Crimea are by 3pm today. Meanwhile the Oscars provided a distraction for Vlad the Invader to do this. Wonder what picks for the Oscars the National Seurity Council had? Of course 12 years a slave was a 150% shoe-in for “Best?” Picture.

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