September 12, 2013

#Putin, #Syria, #Realpolitik, blind pigs and American exceptionalism

Update, Sept. 18: The UN investigation seems to tie the attacks to senior officers of President Bashar Assad. Whether they were following orders or not may still not be final, but the linked New York Times story indicates the answer is yes.

That said, per the oft-cited piece by William Polk at the Atlantic? His "cui bono" was, and still is, a good question. And, if part of why he wrote that piece was pushback, given America's generally poor history of regime change in the Middle East, the neocons leading the charge again on this one and Obama not having a Syria exit plan, the shoot-first warmongers can still look themselves in the mirror.

Now, back to the original blog post.

I certainly don't agree with everything Vlad the Impaler, aka Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, wrote in an op-ed that's in the New York Times and The Guardian.

Let's just say that blind, or self-delusional, or self-inflating, pigs can still find acorns, even multiple ones.

Yes, his invocation of the pope as part of the reason to oppose strikes on Syria is funny. His discussion of how the "Big 5" permanent members of the UN Security Council got absolute veto powers conveniently overlooks the fact that his predecessor leader and country, Joe Stalin of the USSR, pushed for that.

Even more laughable is his worries that America is too randomly attacking other countries. That said, most of the worst against Chechnya happened under Boris Yeltsin, not Putin, who just uses natural-gas based economic blackmail.

And, his claim that "God created us equal" is massive hypocrisy, when he clearly believes gay people aren't equal.

All those caveats aside, there's two important points he makes.

The first is about realpolitik. If John Kerry is going to consult The Phantom of the Chilean Opera, Henry Kissinger, the alleged master of realpolitik, then he should listen to Putin:
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough al-Qaida fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations.
This gets back to the whole, broader issue of nation-building, and how US presidents, US governments, and the US bipartisan foreign policy establishment continues to think it can create democracies out of nothing, pick "winners" and "losers" in this process (to riff on libertarians), and force this down countries' throats.

That, in turn, gets to the other issue, of American exceptionalism, and how we think "we know better" because ...

We're America, fuck yeah (apologies for the "French," and for much more of it in the video.)

That's the best version of that video, by the way, in my opinion.

Anyway, despite all my previous caveats, Putin's last paragraph is spot on about this. The "Assad did it" fanatics, besides re-asking, "do we know who did it," need to read Putin on American exceptionalism:
"My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States' policy is "what makes America different. It's what makes us exceptional". It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
Throwing out my previous caveats, plus the new one of Putin buttering up Obama, the American exceptionalism warnings are well taken.

Basically, this whole excursus and debate on Obama's stance toward Syria in part reflects how liberals and left-liberals in America split on seeing American foreign policy, as I see it. And, I proudly stand accused of being some sort of left-liberal on this issue. Most American liberals on foreign policy? Wilsonian interventionism, when preached by liberals rather than neoconservatives, is the foreign policy equivalent of neoliberalism.

I am in no way saying Putin's perfect. That said, as far as surrender/punish, again, punish who? Remember Iraq, where Hussein kept telling us, I don't have any WMDs, and ... he didn't? Here, it could be rogue generals, or al Qaeda groups. That's why, again, we have to have a reasonably surety of who did it. Then, if it's not Assad, but rogue generals, the Free Syrian Army, or Al Nusra, we have to have a reasonable game plan for what all our steps are.

I don't think Obama has a game plan for anybody but Assad, and that's part of what scares me. We were lucky, so far, to muddle through Libya, ignoring the Islamicists attacking our spook shack in Benghazi. Syria's far more complicated as well as more dangerous.

And, to restrain America, there's only two people in the world who have a chance of doing that.

Contra Putin, Pope Francis is not the other one besides him. It's Xi Jinping, president of China. Actually, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has enough weight in NATO to be somewhat of an anchor weight, though not enough to stop him.

If some people don't like that, well, sorry.

I'd rather have America ask more questions first, before shooting, if we want to riff on an old cops joke.

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