American Elephants


Could We Possibly Get to A Point Where We Are Not “Astonished” by Events? by The Elephant's Child

Politico report called it “a crisis no one anticipated.” The Daily Beast, reporting on Friday’s US intelligence assessment that “Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine,” and quotes a Senate aide claiming that “no one really saw this kind of thing coming.” The American Interest noted that the mainstream media remains 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. There were, we were told lots of reasons not to worry about Ukraine. War is too costly for Russia’s weak economy. Trade would suffer, the ruble would take a hit. The 2008 war with Georgia is a bad historical comparison, Putin doesn’t want to spoil his upcoming G8 summit, or his good press from Sochi.”

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.

We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media. Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box. How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do? Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us. Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas. But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.

Canada has promptly recalled its ambassador to Russia, and cancelled their attendance at the G8 conference. The G7 are suspending their participation in any international summit in Russia. I think that The American Interest has it exactly right. The White House operates on the assumption that the people with whom we negotiate are really reasonable people who basically want the same things that we do.  Well, no they’re not. Has no one noticed that Putin has allied himself with Syria, Iran, North Korea. Moscow denounced the overthrow of Moscow’s man in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych as the illegal work of fascist bandits.

Obama wants stability. He sees Ukraine as a crisis to be managed. Democracy must come organically from international developments, not imposed by outside intervention. What he does not understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum. Obama’s meaningless “red line” in Syria invited in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Obama’s failure to get a status of forces agreement with Iraq invited in Iran and al Qaeda. And he is apparently ready to turn Afghanistan over to the Taliban. Obama’s lifting of the sanctions against Iran has allowed them the freedom to finish developing their nuclear weapons.

These are not reasonable people who want the same things we do.The citizens of these countries may be reasonable people, but their governments are a different bunch. The people of Iran were once quite cosmopolitan, but the Mullahs await the return of the Mahdi  and expect nuclear weapons to hasten the reestablishment of the Caliphate.

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The Saudis and  the leaders of the Gulf States are deeply worried about Iran. One might assume that they are more familiar with their neighbors than we are. We should perhaps pay attention.

Putin has told us over and over that the fall of Soviet Russia was the world’s greatest catastrophe, and he clearly regrets the loss of superpower status. Part of restoring the Soviet Union would seem to be recapturing its former satellite states. If we paid attention, and knew our history, we might anticipate such crises. That seems a worthy goal.




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