On Russian related matters, the more sane among us can perhaps be forgiven for becoming sedated by the kind of absurdities regularly spewed by some high profile individuals. The realist wing of the US foreign policy establishment has at times held back in rebuking this reality. We all have our biases, with the ideal to nevertheless be reasonably fair and balanced – a point which leads to a detailed critical overview of some trends among US foreign policy establishment realists.
The realist leaning National Interest, exhibits a different choice of words, relative to actions taken by the Russian and US governments. At that venue, George Beebe’s August 12 piece “How Trump Can Avoid War With Russia“, states: “Reducing Russian cyber aggression will require agreeing on rules to govern US as well as Russian involvement in the affairs of other states. Punishing Moscow’s transgressions must be complemented by rewards for good behavior, or we will simply reinforce perverse incentives for Russia to defy American policies, deepen security cooperation with China, and subvert NATO and the EU.”
In comparison, Beebe is tame in his prose dealing with post-Soviet US actions (in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria), which within reason can be considered as unnecessarily aggressive and deserving of condemnation. The aforementioned “Russian cyber aggression“, is something continuously brought up with a lack of conclusive evidence. Beebe’s use of “punishing” versus “rewards” towards Russia is along the lines of treating a child.
Dmitri Simes’ August 8 National Interest article “Delusions About Russia“, begins with “Russia is a dangerous adversary.” Neocons and neolibs will find little, if any disagreement with his opening comment. In conjunction with that thought, the second sentence in Simes’ piece is somewhat contradictory in saying “But treating it as an outright enemy could result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, triggering mortal threats to its neighbors which otherwise might not be in the cards.”
Enemy (whether outright or otherwise) is a synonym of adversary. In the post-Soviet era, Russia and America haven’t fought each other. With that in mind, the use of enemy and adversary is in line with tabloid sensationalist inaccuracies, as opposed to a realist seeking a more balanced overview. (The National Interest has had its tabloid moments, like Michael Peck’s April 3, 2016 article “How Poland Saved the World From Russia“, which I took some pleasure in answering.)
Putting aside the attempt to accommodate neolib and neocon biases, here’s an alternative to Simes’ opening salvo: “Russia could be a dangerous adversary. This can unnecessarily occur by incessantly disregarding legitimate Russian concerns.” Thereafter, a litany of fact based examples can be provided.
Categorizing Russia as a “formidable geopolitical rival” to America (and vice versa) arguably serves as a better characterization than “dangerous adversary”. In line with a pragmatic approach, this suggestion is in sync with the foreign policy realist, who second guesses the extent to which these two countries should be at odds with each other.
From a non-establishment realist perspective seeking improved US-Russian ties, the rest of Simes’ piece is for the most part agreeable. Not too long ago, the US based mass media journalist Natasha Bertrand (who the Johnson’s Russia List promoted blogger “Yalensis” has called a “whore”) suggested in so many words that Simes might be, or is, a Kremlin flack. It’s that kind of mass media portrayal which might compel Simes to express himself in the beginning of his article at issue. (Bertrand has ties to MSNBC, Politico and The Atlantic.)
Regardless of whether that’s the case, there’s a basis for the US foreign policy establishment to broaden itself with other sources. BTW, Simes been at the forefront in having the likes of the Atlantic Council’s John Herbst and former Obama administration official Charles Kupchan, appear on Russian national television, where he co-hosts a show on Channel 1. Comparatively speaking, the major US TV news networks don’t (in overall terms) do a better job in getting diverse views on issues concerning US-Russian relations.
This very point leads to the matter of projection. A US mass media elite saying that Russian media is restricted comes to mind. Projecting some negative US behavior to Russia relates to the suspect claim that the Russian government is looking to promote racial division in the US. That demonic image of the Kremlin was spun by NBC’s Richard Engel this past May. A couple of months later on NBC, US Democratic Party presidential candidate Kamala Harris, flippantly presented this claim as fact, minus any conclusive proof.
Upon further review, Engel’s “proof” includes a subtle acknowledgement of lacking conclusive evidence – an underhanded way of covering his butt if the claim gets completely demolished. Russia is by no means a monolithic country. As is true with many, if not most other nations, individual Russians can pursue agendas on their own, without the approval of the Russian government. The US comedian Dave Chappelle aptly noted that Russia isn’t responsible for bigoted instances in the US. In Russia, the US and elsewhere, there’ve been features on intolerance in the US, with some of that coverage being inaccurate.
Regarding a foreign government seeking to sow ethnic discord in another country, consider the comments of the US State Department’s George Kent at a one-sided Capitol Hill discussion on Crimea, hosted this past March by the Atlantic Council, US Institute of Peace and Ukrainian Embassy. At about the 45 minute mark of this taped event, Kent pointedly said that “Crimea is Ukrainian” in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages – never minding the majority ethnic Russian population in Crimea and the fact that Russian is the most preferred language there. In addition, Kent made no mention that the majority of Crimea’s ethnic Ukrainian population support Crimea’s reunification with Russia.
Kent’s suggestive advocacy to pit non-Russians in Crimea opposed to Russia/Russians was propagandistically presented by Nick Schifrin in an Al Jazeera segment around the time of Crimea’s reunification with Russia in 2014 – something I had previously noted. Upon being reunited with Russia, Crimea has been spared the level of nationalist violence that has existed in some other parts of the former Ukrainian SSR. Within Crimea, there’s no noticeable call to leave Russia and rejoin Ukraine.
Over the years, Doug Bandow has expressed views which generally put him in the realist wing of the US foreign policy establishment. His comments on Crimea further highlight some of the limits within US foreign policy establishment realist circles. Bandow’s August 30, 2018 National Interest article and August 1, 2019 American Conservative piece, advocates an internationally supervised referendum in Crimea.
It’s crystal clear that a well over 2/3 majority in Crimea support their area being reunited with Russia. It’s a high point of hypocrisy to dwell on Crimea having another referendum, while not advocating a referendum for Kosovo. Such an inconsistency jives with the anti-Russian biases regularly presented in US mass media without much of a rebuttal.
On the subject of Russia and Ukraine, I’m reminded of a September 5, 2014 PBS NewsHour segment, where noted foreign policy realist John Mearsheimer said: “The Russians have made it very clear that they’re not going to tolerate a situation where Ukraine forms an alliance with NATO, the principle reason that Russia is now in Ukraine and trying to wreck Ukraine.
And let’s be clear here. Why Russia is trying to wreck Ukraine, is because Russia doesn’t want Ukraine to become part of the West. It doesn’t want it to be integrated into NATO or the EU. And if we follow the prescriptions that Bill and I know Mike favors as well, what we are going to end up doing is further antagonizing Putin. He is going to play more hardball. And the end result is that Ukraine is going to be wrecked as a country, and we’re going to have terrible relations between Russia and the West, which is not in Russia’s interest and not in our interest.”
At a University of Chicago event, Mearsheimer also singles out Russia as seeking to “wreck” Ukraine. He doesn’t use that word to characterize Western actions. Hence, his usage comes across as disproportionate and puzzling. (Offhand, I don’t recall Mearsheimer using a word like “wreck” to describe US actions in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya.) When compared to Russia, Mearsheimer has said that he finds more fault with the Western stances taken on Ukraine.
All of the following highlighted points have been agreeably acknowledged by Mearsheimer:
- A good deal of Ukraine’s problems pertain to some internal dynamics in Ukraine, which don’t specifically involve Russia or the West.
- The leading Western governments took a casual approach to the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych, shortly after he signed an internationally brokered power sharing arrangement with his main opponents.
- Following Yanukovych’s overthrow, there were a series of increased anti-Russian acts in Ukraine.
- Russia (prior to Yanukovych being overthrown) was if anything more open than the leading Western nations to a jointly negotiated Russian-Ukrainian and Western agreement on how Ukraine’s economy should develop.
- Forget about Russia for a moment. Like it or not, there’re pro-Russian elements in Ukraine who’ve opposed some key aspects of the Euromaidan. The overwhelming majority of the Donbass situated rebels are from the territory of the former Ukrainian SSR. For its part, the Russian government can’t be seen as being too oblivious to the concerns of Russian speaking pro-Russians just outside Russia’s border.
I’ll add that it’s ultimately not in Russia’s interest to have on its border, a relatively large country like Ukraine, with considerable socioeconomic problems. Such a scenario can lead to a negative spillover effect. On the other hand, there’re anti-Russian elements who (whether they admit to it) seek to make propaganda points out of increased tensions with Russia. A good number of these folks reside safely beyond Russia and Ukraine.