Thursday, August 7, 2014

P.R. Laboratory

Over the years Talleyrand has developed a certain respect for the uncanny way Americans get what they want in the world. But he is wondering what it will take for them to stop treating diplomacy and statecraft as a branch of public relations. The last team that looked like they understood the job left office in 1992. Since then,

Mr. Clinton thought by saying all the right things, the world would get along. Then he changed his mind.

Mr. Bush (fils) thought he could say all the wrong things then shock and awe the world into doing his bidding. Then he changed his mind.

Mr. Obama thought he could say clever things and that the world would readjust to running itself on its own terms. Then he changed his mind.

Mr. Putin once said that Americans see the world as a laboratory. He had a point.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Conservative Idealism

Mr Andrew Sullivan, the popular Anglo-American blogger, has posted another small cri-de-cœur in favour of the retreat of US power which he calls hegemony. He makes a good case. The interventionists do sound like sad nostalgics by his account. How hard it is for them to give up the assurances they know so well, the standard operating procedure inbred over a half-century of world leadership…

Talleyrand worries that this will become the dominant view of the cognoscenti. For it is no less nostalgic, even romantic, about the use and responsibility of power. For all his sense of timing and fashion, Mr Sullivan sounds like a classic little Englander suffering from a higher form of knownothingism. It may not be fair to ask, but the reader wonders:  to how many lands has he been? How many languages does he know? How much of the world, splendid window vistas notwithstanding, has he seen beyond what lies directly in front of his nose?

These things matter because he writes from the capital of the country which still runs the world’s biggest economy, has the biggest army, the world’s lingua franca, the legal, institutional, scientific, and educational infrastructure and human capital upon which much of the world still depends, the most to contribute to keeping the world as safe and as orderly as it can be, and the most at stake. There is more to that world that ‘troops on the ground’; there is more to it than slogans and admonitions. The world, the ‘real world’, as sceptical, self-identifying conservatives like to say, is not so divisible. It is not so far away, across wide channels or vast oceans. It is here; we are in it. All of us.

Mr Sullivan should read more history. He is correct; America is no longer a super-power. But it ought to be, and behave, like a great power. For its sake and the world’s, its polemicists should end their theoretical debates over whether or not it should wield its significant power, and instead educate themselves in the best ways to wield it in collaboration with others, and realise, after having been so fortunate as to be on the winning side of three world wars, that just walking away from its global responsibilities now is not an option. Indeed it as dangerous and delusional in the longer term as knee-jerk interventionism may be more immediately.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

There is one question Western military planners should be asking now: how can the imminent war between Russia and Ukraine be "contained" to the eastern border regions of the latter?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Know Thine Enemy

A bit of historical empathy may be in order; or, as the Americans like to say, we need to stand in the other guy’s shoes every now and then.

When John Kerry accused Vladimir Putin of living in the 19th, not the 21st, century, he must have meant the early 20th. For the 19th century—at least up to the last Crimean War when, for a few strange reasons, Britain and France decided to terminate their half-century-long arrangement with Russia and switch sides—was a comparably peaceful and well-ordered period in Europe, when nearly every major, and even minor, power played by the rules.

Three times in modern history the powers of Europe were overtaken by passions and nearly committed continental suicide. Three times—in 1648, 1815 and 1945—their statesmen gathered to pick up the pieces by asserting a rather simple geopolitical principle: that borders should not be violated, least of all by passions. The final one, begun as it happens also at Crimea, took a while to set but finally, in 1975, did in something called the Helsinki Final Act.

Helsinki’s shelf-life was rather short. For the organization which underwrote it—the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe—gathered in Istanbul in 1999 and declared, in the words of a well- known Czech-American, that “human rights trump sovereignty.”

In the meantime the borders of Europe had moved. Putin is told again and again that the 21st century mind does not think this way, and that Europe—especially Europe—has progressed to a new era of human society where Machtpolitik is no longer waged with maps, armies and gold. He could easily reply that this is what European imperialists have always said to defend and promote their empires. A German hegemony underwritten by American nuclear weapons and Chinese consumers is no different. And every year it swallows even more territory.

Thus it may be reasonable to depict Putin and his country as stuck in a time warp, “on the wrong side of history,” etc. It may also be reasonable to draw analogies not to 1938-39 but to 1999 or perhaps to a year before the Helsinki Final Act, 1974, in a place not too far from Crimea called Cyprus. Putin may or may not be a “revisionist” on a rampage. Or he may just be fed up at being lectured to by people who can’t get their centuries right.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Predictable, and Predicted

The crisis in Ukraine has now become a tragedy. It probably will get worse. It is not too early to begin to examine the wisdom of the actions and policies of the country’s self-proclaimed allies.

The diplomacy of the EU and its 'Eastern Partnership' now appears to have been too little, and both too early and too late, not least according to the Americans, whose own contribution, leaked rhetoric aside, rates even less, and even later. If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna. Statesmen nowadays rely on something called 'people power' to do that. They have been, and will keep on, encouraging this, evidently, down to the last Ukrainian.

This is not the time or the place to denounce geopolitics; Talleyrand believes in little else, in fact, even when a concept like solidarity is tossed into the mix. The EU has been criticised therein for failing to put its money where its mouth is. So too have the Americans. It’s all very well to pass out cakes in the Maidan in a sad, singlehanded imitation of the Berlin airlift. But if solidarity really matters, where were the American do-gooders when so many uprooted Greeks, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and other Europeans took to the streets in desperation during the past couple of years? 'F*** the EU' might have been taken more seriously there. Now it’s immaterial. The people of Kiev have begun to learn self-reliance the hard way.


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