What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

What is Hegemony Really Worth?

Would the American foreign policy establishment be willing to jettison its geopolitically counterproductive and morally illicit hegemonism with respect to Russia, a hegemonism that not only ties our hands with respect to legitimate threats from disparate Islamic sources, but devalues the legitimate and instinctive patriotic sentiments of other peoples, Russians particularly, but not exclusively, in order to mitigate the Iranian threat? Hear Stratfor:

Via the U.N. Security Council, Russian cooperation can ensure Iran's diplomatic isolation. Russia's past cooperation on Iran's Bushehr nuclear power facility holds the possibility of a Kremlin condemnation of Iran's nuclear ambitions. A denial of Russian weapons transfers to Iran would hugely empower ongoing U.S. efforts to militarily curtail Iranian ambitions. Put simply, Russia has the ability to throw Iran under the American bus -- but it will not do it for free. In exchange, it wants those treaties amended in its favor, and it wants American deference on security questions in the former Soviet Union.

Russia could be encouraged to throw Iran under the American bus. But there is a price, and that price would entail the abandonment of hegemonism.

A series of three treaties ended the Cold War and created a status of legal parity between the United States and Russia. The first, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), restricts how much conventional defense equipment each state in NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, and their successors, can deploy. The second, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), places a ceiling on the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that the United States and Russia can possess. The third, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), eliminates entirely land-based short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles, as well as all ground-launched cruise missiles from NATO and Russian arsenals.

The constellation of forces these treaties allow do not provide what Russia now perceives its security needs to be. The CFE was all fine and dandy in the world in which it was first negotiated, but since then every Warsaw Pact state -- once on the Russian side of the balance sheet -- has joined NATO. The "parity" that was hardwired into the European system in 1990 is now lopsided against the Russians.

START I is by far the Russians' favorite treaty, since it clearly treats the Americans and Russians as bona fide equals. But in the Russian mind, it has a fateful flaw: It expires in 2009, and there is about zero support in the United States for renewing it. The thinking in Washington is that treaties were a conflict management tool of the 20th century, and as American power -- constrained by Iraq as it is -- continues to expand globally, there is no reason to enter into a treaty that limits American options. This philosophical change is reflected on both sides of the American political aisle: Neither the Bush nor Clinton administrations have negotiated a new full disarmament treaty.

Finally, the INF is the worst of all worlds for Russia. Intermediate-range missiles are far cheaper than intercontinental ones. If it does come down to an arms race, Russia will be forced to turn to such systems if it is not to be left far behind an American buildup.

There then follows, in that same Stratfor analysis, the section I quoted previously, in my piece against hegemonism as a violation of patriotism. The bottom line is that this set of treaties, which function to codify an imbalance in American-Russian relations, enabling America to continue "projecting power" against Russian interests, have become an exemplification of America's general hegemonist policy, which Russia desires the end. Some might regard this as blackmail, purely and simply. That judgment, however, presupposes the legitimacy of American policy, which ought not be assumed as a given. If Russia is engaging in blackmail against the United States, it is scarcely to be differentiated, ethically, from American policy itself.

Where do the interests of the United State truly lie, then? In grinding Russia into dust, reducing her to political and economic vassalage as an expression of American hyper-puissance, or in constraining Iranian ambitions - that is, constraining the jihad (to the extent that this is separable from Persian nationalism generally) in one of its manifestations? The fact that the American establishment seems intent upon the impossibility of "both/and" tells one everything one needs to know concerning its descent into hubristic dementia.

Comments (32)

So, if Russia is helping Iran--home of evil, Islam, contumacy and (to add my words) general craziness and America-and-Israel hatred--to get The Bomb, this is _our_ fault, because we won't rewrite a set of treaties to Russia's specifications?

Well, I guess that's what they call Realism.

But as a set of moral implications about foreign policy, I don't buy it.

So Russia is supposed to do what, exactly, in response to American policies injurious to her own interests and security? Adopt the posture of a supplicant? Acquiesce in the transformation into a quisling regime? Patriotism entails the recognition that citizens of other nations manifest the same loyalties and virtues with respect to their peoples and homelands as one does oneself with respect to one's own. It therefore entails limitations in the exercise and extension of power, of all types; so yes, realism does have a moral tincture.

And the treaties are, or rather have become, in consequence of American meddling around the periphery of Russia, and in the FSU, as well as the expansion of NATO, in violation of assurances given at the time of the Soviet implosion, emblematic of America's self-proclaimed "unipolar moment." Again, if conservatives want to make the argument that Russians and other non-Americans are obliged - and this morally! - to become vassals of an American imperium, let them do so openly. But then let us open avow that the "politics of moral clarity" are really the "politics of empire", which gives the entire morality thing a rather sickly pallor. Or was that, rather, crimson?

Um, but it's _wrong_ to help a country like Iran get the nuclear bomb. The Iranians are bad guys. You shouldn't give bad guys nuclear weapons. I think that should be basic. And even if you're right about everything else, two wrongs don't make a right. That's part of what I meant by my eyebrow-raised reference to "realism." This idea that Russia just "has to" do this or that because we did this or that. Reminds me, somehow, of that idea I've mentioned before about how we "forced" Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor.

But the argument is not now, nor has it ever been, that Russia's provision of nuclear technology to Iran is morally licit. I'm dubious that the judgment, correct though it may be, is all that relevant. Providing a nation like Iran with the technology to assemble nuclear weapons would be questionable; an argument could be made, however, in favour of nuclear power generation, along lines already suggested.

That aside, however, my argument is not, "What Russia is doing is laudable, morally and strategically." No, my argument is that American foreign policy is morally and strategically dubious, and that this issues in (more or less) predictable consequences. This is the "realism" aspect, which can be denied, punted, ridiculed, or shunted out of the discussion, but won't disappear merely because we possess a strong instinct to scold Russia. In point of fact, what I am arguing is that this predilection for scolding Russia and other foreign powers is too often a cloak for a refusal to apply ethical judgment to American foreign policy. There is no moral ground for the attempts to "grind Russia into dust", because the existence of Russia as another great power does not pose a grave and lasting threat to the security, let alone the existence, of the United States.

In other words, since I am an American, this is an argument, not about what Russia should do, but about what America should (not) do. That Russia is wrong, at some level, in risking Iran's elevation to nuclear weapons status does not legitimate morally and strategically dubious American foreign policy. One wrong does not make right another nations' wrong.

"So Russia is supposed to do what, exactly, in response to American policies injurious to her own interests and security? Adopt the posture of a supplicant?..." etc.

I have to say that this sounds an awful lot like implying that Russia's actions are justified or at least excusable in light of our "injurious policies." In fact, you manage to give the impression that by supplying the wherewithal to produce nuclear weapons to Iran (to _Iran_!!) Russia is merely doing what it must (!) to respond to aggression on our part.

Now, I would argue that the whole premise of much of what you say is backwards. For example, we're being urged, let's face it, to be more friendly with Russia. I point out that Russia isn't acting like a country we should want to be friends with--it's not only helping Iran to complete a nuclear program, Putin has also urged recognition of *Hamas*. These are just examples. Why the dickens should it be called "Russophobia" to say, "Ah, a rogues' gallery. I guess we know where Russia is coming from"? It seems to me that these sorts of behaviors are excellent evidence that keeping Russia very much at arms' length has something to be said for it. But you turn that on its head: "See how mean we've been to Russia? We've _made_ them feel they _have to_ use Iran as a bargaining chip against us!" Well, if Russia is being defined as the Victim and America as the Bully, I guess anything it does can be explained in these same terms. But I'm not buying it.

And by the way, there is _nothing_ in those treaties as described that makes me inclined *in the slightest* to say, "Oh, wow, how _bad_ we're being not to do just what Stratfor says Russia wants us to do about them. How cruel. How hegemonic. How we are trying to grind Russia into powder by not renewing the START I treaty in 2009" (beats breast). Suddenly we're the big meanies, we're engaging in "hegemonic actions" if we don't renew the strategic arms limitation treaty in 2009? It is evident by the natural light that the Russian people will suffer some horrible fate, and it will be our fault, if we don't ditch the late-20th-century arms limitation treaties Russia _doesn't_ like and renew the one Russia _does_ like? I find it almost appalling that it should be thought even remotely mitigating of Russia's actions w.r.t. Iran that we don't rush right out and do these things.

"In fact, you manage to give the impression that by supplying the wherewithal to produce nuclear weapons to Iran (to _Iran_!!) Russia is merely doing what it must (!) to respond to aggression on our part."

What Maximos is saying doesn't give me this impression. Not at all. The impression it gives me is that Maximos understands that Russia will use *reason* (not blind hatred) to determine how best to act in Russian self-interest, in response to, and/or regardless of, what American hegemonic interests in Europe or the Middle East happen to be.
This childish insistence that everything American is Goodness Itself, and any nation whose leaders fail to kow-tow to the American geopolitical agenda, or whose people come to resent America's condescending overlordship, manifest Evil Incarnate, is not helpful to the cause of world peace.
The first step, the cornerstone, the fundamental philosophical concept is: Know thyself.
There is not a single tunnel-visioned jingo artist who has taken that first step. No, not one.

Taking a page from neoconservative radio personality Dennis Prager (who openly admits that he is really a JFK liberal who stood pat while the Democratic Party moved to the left), I should state that I prefer clarity to agreement; and in that vein, I should like to know precisely what I am arguing against. Because, to be perfectly lucid, we are doing anything but keeping Russia at arms' length on account of certain unsavoury policies. The phrase 'keeping at arms' length' implies a certain neglect or indifference, and American policy is characterized by, not benignity, but calculated aggression - something that could be confirmed a thousand times over by a perusal of the Stratfor archives, as well as the position papers of a host of neoconservative and "realist" foreign policy institutes, committees, and centers for the study of something or other.

Hence, I should like to know whether I am arguing against the view that "grinding another nation into dust" is a legitimate foreign policy objective in itself, without respect to circumstances; whether "grinding another nation into dust" becomes a legitimate foreign policy objective when undertaken preemptively, in order to forestall the emergence of rival centers of power; whether the desire for the United States to constitute - as in: establish, ordain, create - a global empire of sorts is somehow normal and legitimate, and consonant with our best political traditions; whether, in the specific instance, it is licit to undertake a policy of "grinding another nation into dust" on nakedly hegemonist grounds, legitimating this retrospectively by appealing to that nation's plea to recognize a certain unsavoury government in the Levant, as well as that nation's policy of seeking strategic leverage in its own volatile backyard by dealing with a certain Islamic Republic; or whether, finally, I am supposed to accept the proposition that I ought not criticize the geopolitical follies of the United States, concentrating instead on all of the alleged perfidies and injustices of other nations, playing 'the three monkeys' with regard to American policy.

Seriously, I should like to know such things, because it certainly appears that I am being urged to assent to the proposition that Russia's dealings with Iran, and her counsel of extending recognition to the Hamas government in Palestine, together constitute a causus belli, a just cause for the implementation of a policy of "grinding Russia into dust" - that these policies on the part of Russia pose an imminent threat to the security of the United States, a threat grave, enduring, and of the utmost severity, such that acts tantamount to war are warranted. Now, it may be that I am only being urged to assent to the much weaker proposition that the United States should simply leave Russia to itself, enacting a policy of benign neglect; but this proposal, too, would entail an abandonment of the hegemonist policy of expanding NATO, attempting to neutralize or negate the Russian strategic deterrent, installing pliant kleptocrats in nations of the FSU, maneuvering to render permanent American military installations in the Central Asian republics of the FSU, and so forth. For, in the final analysis, it is not merely that the United States is attempting to grind Russia into powder by refusing to renegotiate certain strategic armaments treaties - treaties which, given the aforementioned American strategic policies of the preceding 15 years, have come to codify the American ambition of strategic hegemony - but that those treaties have become emblematic of, reinforcing of, an entire strategic environment within which the United States is endeavouring to reduce Russia to vassalage. Russia does not desire merely the renegotiation of those treaties, but the cessation of American interference and intervention along the Russian periphery. For my part, I find it almost appalling that the hegemonist policies of the United States are presumed to entail no untoward consequences, such that any unpleasantness subsequent to the implementation of those policies is to be attributed to the turpitude of their objects, and never to the turpitude of American policymakers themselves.

You're arguing against the proposition that nothing you list as wrongs against Russia constitutes "bellum" against Russia. As far as I can see, we don't need a "causus belli" for any of the things you list, nor any of the things you have talked about in any other posts on this subject (the "great barbecue" included). The only thing that is bad at all is encouraging Muslim separatists, and even that doesn't seem to me like "war," though it is wrong and stupid. If these are the stains on our national consciousness, the things which are supposed to have driven Russia to give nukes to Iran and cozy up to the scum of the earth (but I repeat myself), then I feel lighter at heart the longer you talk. I think, frankly, that you harm your own cause. "We have done those things we ought not to have done, and we have left undone those things we ought not to have done." And _this_ is the indictment when it comes down to it? All this stuff about military installations that are already there, the "great barbecue," not renegotiating these treaties to Russia's benefit, encouraging Ukrainian independence?

My national guilt meter is in danger of going negative.

And, Rodak, if this is Russia's using "reason and not blind hatred" then "using reason and not blind hatred" means doing something really bad, something you, of all people, would condemn in shrill tones if America even thought about it, and I'm not interested in excuses using the word "hegemony." This whole apologia for Russia and scolding of the United States sounds just...laughable. At least to the sort of person I consider myself: A garden-variety conservative who is, if anything, somewhat less hawkish than the majority of garden-variety conservatives.

"...if this is Russia's using "reason and not blind hatred" then "using reason and not blind hatred" means doing something really bad, something you, of all people, would condemn in shrill tones if America even thought about it..."

If I were a Russian, I might well oppose Russia doing something really bad, allegedly in her self-interest. I might argue that the self-interest being acted upon was short-sighted. I might argue that such self-interest did not sufficiently take into account "the big picture." I might even argue that such self-interest was immoral. But, I'm not a Russian, I'm an American. And I'm an American who draws a *moral* distinction between "self-interest" and "self-defense." What is being done in the Middle East, or in Eastern Europe, by America is *not* being done, by my definition of the term, in "self-defense," but in "self-interest." I can, therefore, take my own country to task for what it does, to the extent that I oppose it. But what I can't do is support the attempted coercion, by my country, of Russia, or any other country, to act contrary to *its* self-interest. I haven't the right to do so.

Well, then we fundamentally disagree, and that irreconcilably. In point of moral fact, the deliberate, willful, calculated subversion of another nation requires a justification more substantial than, "We have the power to do this". We don't need a causus belli in order to intend, as an object of strategy, the deconstruction of another nation, its reduction to vassalage and the status of an extraction economy? Have I awakened in some alternate universe, in which Machiavelli is now a paragon of Christian and conservative virtue? What strange dogma is this, that, as I have argued, transmutes the virtues of patriotism, born of gratitude, into aggression and truculence?

In point of fact, those military installations in Central Asia were either existing Russian facilities, or facilities that Russia permitted the United States to establish in the wake of 911. The Russian government was tremendously cooperative in those days, believing that the United States, having felt the sting of the jihad on its own territory, would now comprehend the strategic environment within which Russia was constrained to operate, and would, in consequence, be willing to abandon that fantastical delusion of a world-smothering hegemony. Their openness to American policy in that period was requited with the attempt to establish permanent bases throughout Central Asia, all the better to exploit developing energy resources, the subversion of governments along the Russian periphery and the replacement of those governments with pliant kleptocrats, unilateral withdrawals from strategic arms treaties, and so forth. What rationale has America proffered to Russians wondering why they should acquiesce in American designs upon Eurasia? Submit, and you'll be a little less poor than otherwise? Wow, that's compelling: an offer that "cannot refuse". American foreign policy is the geopolitical equivalent of a spoiled toddler, or Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit growling, "My Waaaayyyy! My Waayyy or the HIGHWAAAAAYYYYY!"

Furthermore, I fear that a certain methodological nominalism is impeding the course of these exchanges, inasmuch as there appears to be no acknowledgement of the fact that each one of the discrete American policies emerged, not only in response to immediate exigencies, but as an expression of an architectonic strategy aiming at hegemony in Eurasia. Rodak is spot on: we possess no right whatsoever to compel another nation not engaged in hostilities with us to act contrary to its own interests. None. Hegemony is illicit, tout court.

Excuse me: We can't say that what other countries do is wrong? We have to take a "judge not" attitude towards any country other than our own? How far does this go? If Iran takes its nukes and turns some other country into a parking lot, do we maybe get to criticize Russia just a teensy bit? And Iran? Or is it just responding to American "hegemony," too? Or maybe it would be okay if _Russia_ started attacking some of those horrible military installations in Asia. After all, we've supposedly started a _war_ with them by trying to make those bases permanent.

I'm getting this "I can criticize Russia only if I'm Russian, no matter what Russia does" nonsense from Rodak. I don't know, Jeff, if your enthusiastic endorsement of some of his comment is meant to extend to that implication, but you certainly don't seem much disturbed by it.

That's insane. That's crazy. I'm just...revolted by this "blame America first and excuse everybody else" stuff.

And the whole attitude here regarding Russia reminds me of few things so much as the combination of threat and victimhood whining one hears from the Muslims: "How dare you act like we're aggressive and dangerous? How irrational of you! How phobic! If you keep acting that way, we're going to do something aggressive and dangerous, and it'll be _your fault_."

Of course we are entitled to exercise moral judgment, provided that moral judgment also extends to our own policies and actions; all too often, the judgment that Russian policy X is morally invidious seems to entail, in the minds of those rendering the judgment, that American policies A, B, and C are morally blameless, which they are not: none of the American policies to which Russia has objected are requisite to the licit self-defense requirements of the United States, if we assume that the United States is a republic and not an empire. Moreover, the exercise of moral judgment, as in the case of Russian complicity in the Iranian nuclear programme, does not exculpate a failure to reckon with the logical or probable consequences of one's own policies, particularly if those policies are neither necessary for American defense nor morally licit. Foreign policy has consequences. Conquering or subjugating other nations, whether by force of arms or the slow constricting action of "soft" power, is not licit, unless undertaken in accordance with the licit requirements of self-defense, if then. Those criteria aren't even close to fulfillment in the case of Russia, ergo, the judgment that while Russia might well be in the wrong to aid a nation like Iran, America, too, is in the wrong in her attempt to "grind Russia into dust".

Or, in other words, morality is an insufficient basis for the conduct of foreign affairs; it may be an indispensable component of foreign policy, and thus necessary, but it is not sufficient, not by a longshot. It is also imperative that the interests of other nations, their aspirations, their security requirements (eg., Russia sitting astride, as it does, the cauldron of horrors that is Central Asia, requires a security buffer), and the limitations, both material and moral, upon power projection, be taken into account. A sense of history, and preferably, a profound acquaintance therewith, is requisite to the delicate tasks of diplomacy and international relations - history, not ideology, and not the rhetoric of moral clarity, this latter having become a catchphrase for ignorance of history and univocal notions of global order.

I am not required, by either morality or logic, to exculpate American policymakers, merely because the Putin regime in Russia does X, Y, and Z that we regard as morally dubious. American policymakers are, or rather, ought to be, required only to act morally themselves, and to reason prudentially about the probable consequences of alternate courses of action. American policymakers are not responsible, morally, for Russia's cooperation with Iran; Russians are responsible for that. But those Americans are responsible for the strategic theaters they create - ie., for their own actions - and ought to be intelligent enough to realize that those actions will engender roughly predictable pragmatic consequences. The notion that, confronted by American strategic malevolence, Russia would do precisely nothing, given that her only options entailed great-power balancing with unsavoury regimes, thus legitimating, de facto, the American policies, is too unserious to credit.

What would American policymakers do, were China to establish forward military bases in Venezuela, thence to project power into the Caribbean basin and the Gulf of Mexico, undermining island states friendly to the United States, with the object of establishing a cordon sanitaire around the US? Protest abjectly? File a lawsuit with the world court?

I find it almost miraculous that I am reproached for observing that aggression begets more aggression, and that the United States ought not be an empire. Empire engenders blowback, regardless of the moral status of the blowback itself. Cause and effect.

Certainly our actions should be moral. I just find it far, far from obvious that the actions in question (with, as I've said, the exception of encouraging Muslim terrorists anywhere at all) are immoral. It might make more sense to argue that the military installations in question are sufficiently unnecessary as to be a poor use of our own financial resources, and hence are "wrong" in a quite weak sense related to our own taxpayers, but that would hardly support the degree of moral indignation on Russia's behalf that is desired. And any argument that is expected to convince the "garden variety conservative" I consider myself to represent that America is misbehaving and that begins, "Suppose China were to..." is doomed to failure. Nor, I think, is it unreasonable that it should be so doomed.

And if we are to believe that failure to change all these policies towards Russia is immoral *just because* if we don't change them Russia will help Iran get nukes or in other ways help highly unsavory folks, then I don't want to hear any more about "Russophobia." Indeed, if this is the way Russia plays ball and the kind of country she is, that argument can cut both ways as far as our containment policies and can be used at least as much to argue that they are reasonable and not to be abandoned lightly as to argue that we must halt them immediately on pain of "blowback." So even the prudential argument in that case is weak. But in any event, I don't think you can have it both ways. If the whole argument here is that Russia is threatening to do bad stuff if we don't snap to it and meet her demands, this may be something we have to take into account. But in that case Russia is hardly to be regarded as a poor victim.

For that matter, this argument seems to ride on its being something other than "amusing" that Iran with nuclear "power" (ahem) might be dangerous.

If you are going to argue against the stated general principle (that no entity has the right, by exercise of superior force, to coerce a second entity into acting against its self-interest) by citing specific instances, then you will always be able find a rationale to make any action "right": you merely shift the moral goalposts until they align with your utilitarian needs.

I just find it far, far from obvious that the actions in question (with, as I've said, the exception of encouraging Muslim terrorists anywhere at all) are immoral.

When did we baptize Machiavelli and Michael Ledeen?

So, you are going on record as arguing that discrete policies, all of which originate in whole or in part in a geostrategic ambition to deconstruct another nation - without just cause - thereby transmogrifying patriotism into an instinct of truculence, precluding that other nation's people from realizing substantive, non-utilitarian goods in addition to those utilitarian goods requisite, instrumentally, to the good life, are morally licit? So manifestly licit, indeed, that it is incomprehensible that anyone might find them objectionable, or think that such petulence in the business of statecraft, such disregard for the opinions and interests of others, is both unwise and unjust?

Colour me stupefied. What is being argued here is, apparently, that Russia's support of Iran is morally illicit (which I've not disputed, in context), and that, therefore, a policy of hegemony adopted for completely different reasons, at a time in the history of the world when Iran was not the threat some now believe it to be, is morally licit - and uncontroversially so. The analogies are too obvious to require express statement.

"a policy of hegemony"

Well, yes, I do think that things like America's having military bases in Asia, American businesses' having profited in a crashing Russian market, America's continuing a policy of containment now against a morally and strategically ambiguous Russia, are significantly different in prima facie moral status from giving crazed America-hating Muslims the atomic bomb.

Color me capable of making moral distinctions.

Does that mean I could never be convinced under any circumstances that we should do this or that differently w.r.t. to Russia? No, it doesn't. But the argument would have to be carried out in a _moderate_ fashion without all this wild rhetoric about "hegemony," "aggression," and needing a "causus belli." None of these things are war. To talk of them as war merely turns off your audience--unless already inclined to agree with you--and undermines your credibility. And such an argument would need to be freed of the various tensions I've already repeatedly pointed out: Russia is a victim. Poor Russia. How irrational people are to fear Russia. Americans have a "tic" about Russia. _But_...Russia is going to do X as "blowback" if we don't hop to it change all sorts of things in our behavior towards her. We are massively imprudent not to go along with what Russia wants. And so forth.

If someone came to me and said merely, "I think American resources could be better spent than on the following four [or whatever] military installations in Asia," I would listen. We could talk about why the people who are in favor of those installations think they should still be there. Such a person should be able to show me that he understands the legitimate reasons that there might be _for_ the specific policy he opposes, so that he can answer them. Then he could explain why he thinks those people are wrong. But all without the insistence on American guilt, American bullying, and Russian innocent victimhood. It doesn't fly--either rhetorically or argumentatively.

Well, yes, I do think that things like America's having military bases
in Asia, American businesses' having profited in a crashing Russian
market, America's continuing a policy of containment now against a
morally and strategically ambiguous Russia, are significantly different
in prima facie moral status from giving crazed America-hating
Muslims the atomic bomb.

But the argument would have to be carried out in a _moderate_ fashion without all this wild rhetoric about "hegemony," "aggression," and needing a "causus belli." None of these things are war.

In point of fact, yes, they are tantamount to war, analogous to war, because they are elements of a strategy the object of which is to destabilize and reduce another nation. They are not merely discrete policies which were implemented in response to local exigencies, such that a dispassionate statement of the legitimate reasons that anyone might be able to adduce for them suffices to explain them. They are elements of a geopolitical strategy which has as a precondition of success the grinding of Russia into dust. In other words, it is of scant importance that those American-staffed installations in Central Asia were originally opened to the United States in the wake of 911, in order to facilitate the just war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; what matters is that the United States wishes to establish them as permanent regional fixtures, through which resources can be funneled for the engineering of more exchanges of kleptocrats, or, in the parlance of the time, colour-revolutions, and through which leverage can be exerted.

Which brings me to another consideration, namely, that "containment" is not the proper, Cold War-analogous term for the American policy; the proper term, if we are adamant that the Cold War remain the paradigm for Russian-American relations, would be "rollback" - "rollback" as in the exclusion of Russia from her Central Asian backyard so that Western powers can resume the (stupidities of) the Great Game of the Nineteenth century. Moreover, this is not merely a matter of enumerating the reasons why American resources would be better spent elsewhere; this is not merely a matter of prudential deliberation. The deliberate subversion of non-hostile nations, nations that do not pose a threat to the security of the United States, is illicit - illicit irrespective of the pragmatics of any possible set of circumstances.

And, as regards my rhetoric, I'll refrain from employing terms such as 'hegemony, 'aggression', and the like when neoconservatives and faux realists cease and desist from their talk of Benevolent Global Hegemony, the End of History, Global Democratic Capitalism, and other such nostrums. And the 'tensions' are inherent in the circumstances, much as they would be had China followed through on the threat to liquidate its holdings of US Treasury notes, were the Congress to persist in demanding a revaluation of the Yuan: the United States would have been a 'victim' of the Chinese policy, which would have been blowback from the actions - legitimate or not - of the Congress.

Then he could explain why he thinks those people are wrong. But all without the insistence on American guilt, American bullying, and Russian innocent victimhood. It doesn't fly--either rhetorically or argumentatively.

And one aspect of explaining why certain other people are wrong is explaining that what they propose is morally illicit, which entails guilt, is more or less equivalent to bullying, and entails, furthermore, a certain measure of victimhood - though I'm at a loss as to where innocence enters into the process, since I've never invoked the notion. What is being urged upon me is the notion that my rhetoric and argumentation must never imply that American policy has been wrong, other than pragmatically or fiscally. Nice terms for a discussion, if one can succeed in gaining assent to them, but they don't fly with me. The Empire is both wrong and imprudent.

If you want to argue that a particular policy is morally wrong over and above being imprudent (and sufficient imprudence can also be immoral, as can grossly illegitimate expenditure of tax dollars), I think you will need to employ arguments other than those you have used thus far. Those thus far don't seem to me convincing. For example, the whole "grinding them into dust" thing just is leaving me baffled, and, well, tempted to sarcasm. Grinding into dust is a pretty major deal. I find it hard to believe that any of the measures you have described are likely to have any effect on Russia from here on out that I would recognize as "grinding it into dust." You can try to describe it in other terms, but I much fear that those other terms would be the same ones you have used before--not owning their own this or that, being insufficiently independent of American business, having less influence than America does on their immediate neighbors, having, God forbid, the Ukraine be politically independent of themselves, and the like. These things--either separately or in the aggregate--really do not seem to me to deserve the label "being ground into dust." Nor does anything else I can think of that you have ever implied or hinted at, not even the economic collapse of years past, which I seem to recall your having more or less admitted was brought about by American economic advice that was not intended to cause such a collapse but rather was, you believe, incredibly foolish and ill-advised. In other words, even there, where plausibly people did actually die as a result, no one sat around saying, "Heh, heh, let's tell 'em to use shock therapy on the economy, and then the economy will collapse, and people will starve."

Nothing here rises even to the level of, say, the British food embargo against Germany in World War I, which I think could with some justice have been described as an attempt to "grind Germany into dust."

The aspiration to benevolent hegemony might strike some as either hubristic or morally suspect. But a hegemon is nothing more or less than a leader with preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain. That is America's position in the world today. The leaders of Russia and China understand this. At their April summit meeting, Boris Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin joined in denouncing "hegemonism" in the post-Cold War world. They meant this as a complaint about the United States. It should be taken as a compliment and a guide to action.

-- Robert Kagan, from a Foreign Affairs essay originally published in the summer of 1996.

Preponderant influence and authority throughout the world, with the acknowledgment of this putative reality being a compliment and a guide to action, in the minds of neoconservatives (and faux realists).

There exists an architectonic strategic policy, which unifies the many discrete policies which could be justified independently, and on other grounds altogether, and this renders criticism of the totality legitimate. They employ the ostensibly invidious terminology; I and others merely apply a differing moral evaluation, and turn it against them.

"Grind Russia into dust" is quite obviously a metaphor for "reduction to geopolitical subservience, such that she recognizes the authority of the Imperium" - the very imperium that Kagan and his fellows have proclaimed. In does not, then, entail anything so dire as a food embargo and its concomitant atrocities. And, equally obviously, all of the policies at which I have taken umbrage fit rather neatly into a programme of ensuring the subordinate status of a potential rival power.

Well, I think I'd slide right in between you and Kagan. "Predominant influence" doesn't bother me, and it annoys me when people get all worked up about it. "Authority" and "its domain" do bother me. I don't think it's good _for America_ to have Asia be "its domain." Not, especially, in a literal sense. Whether it's good for Asia or not, or Russia, for that matter, is really an entirely different question. In fact, I think it mightn't be such a bad thing for them, shocking as this may sound. And "predominant influence," again, doesn't seem obviously bad to me for anyone, us or them. And of course, everything depends on a lot of things. "Political subservience." Depends. Depends on what is meant, etc., etc. As you know, I've never been moved by the notion that our having lots of influence all over the world and other countries' having to take that influence into account is so bad in itself.

"Subordinate status of a potential rival power" will get pretty much the same ambivalent response from me.

I gather that what we are looking at is this: From your perspective, Maximos, it's _so bad_ in and of itself for us to attempt by any means (including "soft" means) to have X amount of influence in Eurasia that it is pretty much just self-evident that we _owe_ it to Russia as a matter of sheer moral oughtness to, for example, renegotiate the treaties you describe in the main post along terms more favorable to Russia than the ones she agreed to long ago, and to renew the one treaty she likes in 2009. This isn't a matter of _our_ interests (I keep hearing about how bad it is to try to get countries to act contrary to their own interests...) chiefly, nor of prudence, nor of how Russia is or isn't behaving just now or is or isn't likely to behave in the future. It's just morally required of us.

That's an awfully strong position about something that would seem to me to be paradigmatically in the realm of prudential political deliberation involving all manner of practical issues, Russia's present stance toward us, likely consequences, and the like, and a matter for going slowly. And the same applies, mutatis mutandis, re. the military installations set up after 9/11.

"Where do the interests of the United State truly lie, then? In grinding Russia into dust, reducing her to political and economic vassalage as an expression of American hyper-puissance, or in constraining Iranian ambitions - that is, constraining the jihad (to the extent that this is separable from Persian nationalism generally) in one of its manifestations?"

So, where US interests truly are? Please enlighten us.

Please explain what grinding RU into dust mean and provide references to an existing plan to grind RU into dust.
Why US would want to do it?
Is Germany or Italy or Sweden ground into dust?
US seems to be relatively happy with all of them.

I'm not sure what is it about separating Jihad from Persian nationalism. Why should we care?
If we can separate, can we act?
If we cannot separate, should Iran proceed with getting a nuke?

How it all relevant to the fact that Iran is essentialy at war with US from 1980? That US has choosen to act as a coward in that war does not change the fact.

How it all relevant to the fact that Iran goverment openly and repeatedly calls for elimination of Israel?

Jihad or nationalism or halal rabbit stew, such bad behaviour must be punished.

I have to agree with Mik that if "Persian nationalism generally" will sustain anything like the degree of craziness and aggression that we find in Iran currently, then whether or not it is connected with the jihad, we have an interest in "constraining" it. This may be moot, as it appears to be tied to the jihad for the foreseeable future, but I'm very wary of any notion that we owe something to the abstract entity that is the "Persian people," especially when (as in the other thread) this appears to involve our being asked to have some sympathy for the Iranian nuclear program on the grounds that the "Persian people" are entitled to nuclear power. When we go that far with our "try to see it from the other guy's perspective," we've definitely stepped out into left field, in my opinion. We have to deal with the world we're in and likely to be in for the long haul, not with a hypothetical alternate reality in which "the Persian people" just want a peaceful atom. And in the real world, if other countries object to their nuclear program, they have only themselves and/or their government to blame.

A few words on what it means to "grind Russia into dust", which, as I've already indicated, is a manifest metaphor for reduction to geopolitical insignificance and subservience. The strategy for the reduction of Russia to a rump state, a sort of glorified Serbia, is comprised of a number of components. The first component is the leveraging of Russia's strategic weakness in the post-Cold War era, which involves the expansion of NATO into the post-Soviet space - in contravention of assurances given at the time of the Soviet implosion - as a means of encircling Russia and stripping her of regional, let alone global, influence. Hence, the incorporation of the Baltic states, the intermittent discussion of NATO expansion into the Ukraine and the Caucasus, or, at a minimum, the de facto inclusion of the Ukraine and several Caucasian states within the NATO architecture by means of informal alliances. The ultimate ambition is to incoporate even the Central Asian FSU republics into the "Western" security architecture, so that Russia is entirely confined behind a cordon sanitaire.

The second component, which follows as a matter of course from the first, is the leveraging of those treaties that Lydia thinks we'd be crazy not to employ as cudgels against a prostrate power. Those treaties were predicated upon a balance of power which existed in the waning years of the Cold War, which is to state that they codify a state of affairs, geopolitically and strategically, that no longer obtains; and, by virtue of the fact that it no longer obtains, America possesses yet greater leverage over Russia, with NATO being able to field conventional forces in Europe in excess of, and beyond the proportions enshrined in the treaties, while Russia is once more constrained. The balance of forces is the balance of hegemony and coercion. Moreover, the strategic imbalance extends to the realm of nuclear deterrence, with the de jure status of the treaties enshrining a massive American superiority, a superiority that the United States now intends to exploit via the ABM installations proposed for Poland the the Czech Republic. Everyone who is anyone understands that these are not principally concerned with an hypothetical Iranian ballistic missile threat that won't materialize for 15 years; they are concerned with establishing the groundwork, the preconditions, for the final neutralization of the Russian strategic deterrent, with the removal of Russia's last means of defense, when Russia is not threatening the West as it did during the Soviet era. That is a critical point, because, properly appreciated, it tells one much about the nature of the great game being played.

An excursus on the treaties: treaties are symbols, albeit not in the nominalist sense of the term. They are reflections and guarantees of certain states of affairs and systems of relations. We might even state that they are, in this sense, creedal. In these controversies, with the Russians desiring the renegotiation of the treaties to reflect the altered security environment of the post-Cold War, NATO as a global entity world, and America leveraging them in its pursuit of hegemony, it is not the formal reality of the treaties that is the thing-in-itself here, the One Thing which, if the West were to grant some concessions, would resolve the tensions between Russia and NATO. Rather, it is the underlying state of relations that is the thing in itself, the thing that must change if those tensions are to be mitigated, and the United States and Russia are to cooperate in areas of mutual concern, such as the jihad. (Does anyone else here know that Moscow has the largest Mahometan population of any European city, and that Russia could be the first European state to go majority Muslim, by the early years of the latter half of this century, should demographic trends continue?) Moreover, it is that general state of relations, in which America is pursuing hegemony and the submission of its erstwhile adversary, that is illicit, inasmuch as it embodies a perversion of the substantive goods of patriotism, and denies the same goods to others. That is what must change. The remainder is just detail work, as I'll explain.

The third component involves the encouragement of instability along the periphery of Russia itself, not merely in FSU republics, but within Russia itself. The object is to awaken or stimulate already-extant nationalist sentiment among the many non-ethnic-Russian components of the Russia federation, even, where this possesses utility, to the extent of conniving at Islamist sentiment. Take a gander at the list of luminaries affiliated with the Committee for Peace in Chechnya, now rechristened the Committee for Peace in the Caucasus. The manifest contradiction is that most of those folks are renowned for their opposition to "Islamofascism" and the spread of Islamist ideas, many of them even supporting the present War on the Military Tactic of the Weaker Party, and the mission of democratization, and yet, they have for years supported the cause of the Chechen resistance, a Wahhabist funded and dominated movement which aims to spread sharia throughout the Caucasus, and which pioneered the jihadist snuff film as a tool of propaganda and recruitment. This contradiction is underappreciated, and not merely because it substantiates my own arguments, and those of notable paleoconservatives. It is underappreciated insofar as, in geopolitics, there is always a unifying thread with explains the superficial appearance of incoherence or contradiction, as in this instance: American policy does not aim at suppressing the jihad; American policy aims at the suppression of all actual and potential enemies, adversaries, or obstacles to the United States - namely, hegemony. Therefore, where jihadist sentiment is utile toward the fanning of nationalist resentments, that former aspect will be downplayed for public consumption. In accordance with the dominant ideology of the establishment, this efflourescence of jihadist sentiment must be considered momentary, perhaps even a displacement of the true "root causes" of strife, which must be presumed to be poverty, lack of democracy, and so forth. Hence, once the mission of democratization has been carried forward, and democratic capitalism is thoroughly entrenched in these regions, jihadist sentiment will wither away, as it is forecast to wither away throughout the Near East. Democratic capitalism is posited as the solution to both the problem of Islam and the Russian question; the respective routes to that end-state will differ according to the circumstantial differences between them.

The idea animating this aspect of the strategy, therefore, is twofold, or stages. The first stage contemplates the gradual fomentation of discontent and unrest along the soft underbelly of the Russian Federation, thus creating numerous tar-baby scenarios for Russia itself, and establishing the preconditions for a patchwork of quasi-independent fiefdoms that can be incorporated into the Western sphere of influence. This would be the second stage. Russia, then, would have been weakened through the hemorrhaging of territory, the resources requisite to its defense and retention, the consequent directed-attention problematic (while Russia is looking here, maneuver over there), and.... the loss of access to critical natural resources.

The fourth aspect of the strategy, therefore, is depriving Russia of access to, and control of, critical natural resources, principally oil and natural gas reserves, all along her unstable periphery. This, more than anything else, is the reason for the Western obsession with the imprudent and malicious "shock therapy" privatization, with the oligarchic control of natural resources, and with the Great Game now underway in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The object of Western policy is to ensure, insofar as this is possible, that said resources are either controlled by Western corporations, protected by Western military forces, or by compliant local autocrats willing to deal on favourable terms with the West. The politics of resource ownership and distribution, meaning pipelines, is the politics of Central Asia and the Russian periphery.

The strategic object of American policy with respect to Russia thus envisions the latter shorn of her capacity to resist the encroachments of the Unites States, whether by means of hard or soft power, inclusive of the strategic deterrent. Thus constrained, both by NATO military alliances and the proliferation of instability along her southern flanks, weakened financially by the burdens of this constriction, and by the slow reduction of her access to her own resources and resource transit mechanisms, Russia would be prostrate before America, and the dream of American analysts in the 90s - that of a Russia reduced to an extraction economy, with complaint oligarchs cutting favourable deals with the West for resources - and remember that the bulk of Russian state finance derives from resources - such that Russia would have no option but to submit to the authority - Kagan's term - of the American Imperium. The policy of the United States toward Russia, therefore, has as its ultimate object, the reduction of Russia to the economic and political status of one of the Western colonies of yore - an entity incapable of independent action, let alone self-government, existing to provide the West with the means of perpetuating its crapulence for a little while longer, the Russia people be damned. Russia would be Serbia writ large: a nominal state essentially owned and dominated by quislings and foreigners. And I can assure my readers of this: that the Russian man in the street knows this, because he has lived it. He does not need to have this inculcated in him by Russian state propaganda; he knows it himself.

Finally, a note regarding the underlying state of affairs and the details. It is the underlying state of affairs that is illicit, immoral tout court, and, as such, must be repudiated. That it is also incapable of realization, and will gradually redound to the detriment of the United States, is but icing on the cake of reason. The details by which this repudiation must be instantiated must be worked out prudentially; but it is imperative that it be acknowledged that the immorality of the hegemonic state of relations - and the recognition of this moral fact - will impose certain constraints upon the manner in which the details are worked out prudentially. This might mean that American military forces are permitted the use of Russian bases for the purpose of countering the jihad in Asia - but on terms established by Russia, not America. It will mean revisiting those treaties, but not necessarily giving either side everything that it wants. It might permit Western involvement in the Russian energy sector, but on Russia's terms - those resources are a Russian commons, to be managed for the benefit of Russians first and foremost. One of the reasons for the popularity of Putin's government is that it has done precisely this. And so forth. And, perhaps most pointedly, it will entail abandonment of the (American version of) that liberal nationalism which has always sought - for centuries now - to foment nationalist revolutions abroad as a means of wielding influence and securing new markets for favoured corporations.

I dare say that the questions confronting the United States are orders of magnitude greater than who steals in Kiev or Tbilisi, Astana or Bishkek; and whether Western multinationals control the resources of foreign nations doesn't even rate. For the love of all that is holy, and all that is good in America, what truly threatens us - the loss of our national identity, the effacement of our republican traditions (what remains of them), the jihad, the fragmentation of our people under the threat of mass immigration, or America not being able to throw crappy countries against the wall to enforce its global status, American multinationals being hedged abroad, and neoconservatives not being able to strut and preen? Sense of proportion, people.

"strategy for the reduction of Russia to a rump state .... is comprised of a number of components. The first component is the leveraging of Russia's strategic weakness in the post-Cold War era, which involves the expansion of NATO into the post-Soviet space - in contravention of assurances given at the time of the Soviet implosion - as a means of encircling Russia and stripping her of regional, let alone global, influence. Hence, the incorporation of the Baltic states, the intermittent discussion of NATO expansion into the Ukraine and the Caucasus,"

Oh, brother. A view of the Russian Imperial Elite:

Those little Baltic countries and women chasing Georgians and dumbbell Uktainians, who gives a damn.
Their wishes and opinions don't matter at all. Who they think they are? They have no say, only tanks and bombers speak.

US is on a solid grounds here, damned be neo-conmen.
Promises given to long gone rulers of a country that is not recoqnizable today, they cannot override democratically experessed wishes of our just about the best friends we have got.

It is not often that one can do a right thing that also is good for him. This is such case.

Maximos, there is something I don't get, perhaps it is there in your very, very extensive writing that I have problems to comprehend.
You sound like a Russian Imperial patriot, all benefits of doubt go to RU, US gets blamed for everything.
Now, that is a consistent position, the one I disagree, but it would be nice if you just stated it.

Like I said perhaps it is there, I just overlooked it

I hate to break the news, but I've developed my views on the basis of essays and analyses appearing in sources as disparate as Stratfor and Chronicles, not to mention books written by area specialists and/or reporters who have spent careers covering the region. That would include neoconservatives themselves. None of the sources are outposts of the Russian Imperial Elite, whatever that is supposed to mean, and I dare say that the accusation of dual loyalties is invidious and inflammatory.

As for those former Soviet states, we're not exactly sticking up for their liberties; we're only installing pliant kleptocrats, in Georgia and the Ukraine, whose manipulations and arrangements with Western corporations have only driven up the costs of living. (Foodstuffs in the Ukraine now carry prices comparable to those of the West, while average annual income is probably in the range of $3000. Energy prices, too.) As regards the Baltics, well, I'm Polish, so I've a great deal of sympathy, but they mistreat their Russian minorities, and are quite delusional if they believe we'd actually go to war with Russia over who rules in Riga. We aren't going to risk WWIII over something so minor. Sorry. Incidentally, Russians and Ukrainians I know, here and abroad, see through the farce of the electoral process in the Ukraine, and have nothing but contempt for those supposed democratic liberators.

And no, I don't blame the US for everything. I've already asserted that Russia's support for Iran, while explicable on realist grounds, is immoral, and I may have some things to say about the Stalin revisionism sweeping the Russian federation later this weekend. I merely blame the US for its bad foreign policies. It is not licit to subvert a nonthreatening nation; to do so is to undertake what amounts to preventative war.

I haven't read the whole comment, but I didn't understand this:

"...for the final neutralization of the Russian strategic deterrent, with the removal of Russia's last means of defense,..."

How is setting up missile defense shields in Poland removing Russia's means of defense? There could well just be something I don't know here but I just don't understand this at all.

Everyone in the know in defense and intelligence circles realizes that the purposes of ABM defenses are twofold: first, the proximate goal is to neutralize the threat from so-called rogue states, and to signal to Russia that America is the Indispensable Nation; second, the ultimate goal is to neutralize the Russian strategic deterrent itself, so that the United States can exercise its hegemony without the possibility of a threat from Russia. The proposed ABM sites are the down payments on this long-range programme.

"the ultimate goal is to neutralize the Russian strategic deterrent itself, so that the United States can exercise its hegemony without the possibility of a threat from Russia."

But Missile Defense is a defensive mechanism, no?
Do you prefer that the only plan US had for neutralizing the Russian strategic deterrent by nuking all defense installation there and in process killed significant part of their population?

If you like MAD doctrine, so state it.
And explain how MAD will work against Iran.

I'm afraid this is how Russia apologists think, and did think during the Cold War, too. *Even a purely defensive mechanism* was regarded as aggressive, because it defended against possible aggression from...Russia. (Parenthetically, is it reasonable at the same time to ask us not to think of Russia as aggressive?) But I always considered that angry reaction to missile defense to be unreasonable. I feared it was what was meant now, but wanted to be sure. I still think it unreasonable. Very.

Please, the conversation has descended into the realm of the theatrical and gestural. Strategic arms negotiations were always predicated, in part, upon a critical assumption concerning ABM defenses: that, sufficiently robust, they become de facto offensive weapons, inasmuch as they could be utilized either as a security blanket for a first strike policy, or as the precondition of the threat of a first strike, or the perception of same, with the consequence that the ABM shield could become an instrument of coercion - an offensive weapon of war by virtue of its provision of impunity to its possessor. This was not only a presupposition of arms negotiations generally, but the principle was enshrined in the ABM treaty.

Now, there is an additional complication in the present case, and that is that American missiles and warheads are not only capable of larger yields than those in the underfunded Russian arsenal, but equipped with more accurate guidance systems.

Am I arguing that the United States is contemplating a first strike against the Russian Federation? No, of course not. It is worth observing that America never forswore the first use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, but I'm not about to suggest such world-historical evil on the part of the American establishment. Rather, the combination of the capacity afforded by the superiority of the American nuclear arsenal - supremacy, really - and the eventual existence of a comprehensive ABM system will enable America to bluff and coerce Russia into compliance, and this not even by means of diplomacy: Russian strategists would simply take the measure of the balance of forces, and realize that they had no options but submission. That is the ambition.

Again, it is not the bare fact of the existence of an ABM system, but rather the intent, the strategic logic that American policymakers perceive it to instantiate. This latter must be altered, and consistently with that alteration of strategic orientation, any ABM systems must be comparatively modest and enshrined in actual, binding treaties. Restraint must be real, not rooted in mere goodwill, which counts for nothing in politics.

All of which is to state that, while I harbour grave reservations concerning the existence and use of nuclear weapons - they are inherently indiscriminate - we are more or less stuck with them, and thus, with MAD as the only restraint upon the leveraging of nuclear arsenals as tools of imperial coercion. MAD renders the use of nuclear weapons less probable; its dismantling renders hostilities more probable in some form or other. Conservatives truly need to cease appealing to principles and arguments apropos of sets of circumstances which no longer obtain; ABM was a vital issue during the waning years of the Cold War precisely because the Russian nuclear force was so much larger than the American arsenal. That is no longer the case, with the American deterrent not only larger numerically, but more powerful and more accurate.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.