FISKING VLADIMIR PUTIN
Russian President Vladimir Putin
rattled the diplomatic set with a pugnacious and critical speech about American foreign policy
that was a clever mixture of blunt realpolitik, obvious gestures for domestic consumption, a play for the sympathy of the anti-American Left in Europe and the anti-Bush Left in America. It was also a not so subtle form of pressure on the Bush administration to treat Russia as a great power partner in world affairs, especially the Middle East.
Russia of course, while not an enemy of the United States, would like all of the goodies that come with being an American strategic partner without having to ante up anything of substantive import in return. While not much praise can be given to the unimaginative, backburner, American policy toward Russia since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the Bush administration has at least been smart enough to not reward empty talk from the Kremlin until Putin puts something concrete on the table. Something the Russian leader has steadfastly refused to do on Iraq, Iran or much of anything else.
Addressing Putin's specific remarks:"The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way," he said in an address at an annual international security conference here. "Nobody feels secure anymore, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law."
I have also read this statement more literally translated as " hide behind international law", which to my reading of Putin, is more in tune with his ex-KGB cynical realism and "Great Russia" nationalism. The statement above reads more like the Foreign Ministry approved text.
On one level, Putin speaks for many foreign leaders who are unhappy with American intervention in Iraq and other places overseas even as American power hems in their own regional ambitions. The Bush administration has failed to use diplomacy, particularly public diplomacy, well or offer realistic carrots to win over the mercurial fence-sitters who do not give a fig for Iraq of Islamist terrorism but care deeply about other subjects. Using hard power successfully requires making the connections beforehand that minimize counterbalancing "blowback" and this chore the Bush administration has been unwilling or unable to do.
On another, deeper, level this is a very illuminating and an honest realpolitik assessment, while being cleverly worded to appeal to Bush critics and International Law professor types who believe that the world actually turns on the moral implications of their abstruse interpretations of treaty conventions. What Putin is really acknowledging is that the previous, Cold War era, ability to carry out policies that were serious threats to the vital interests of other states, especially America, because of " plausible deniability" created by fig leaf nods to international law, is now much riskier.
The plausible deniability for which Putin longs, served a critical purpose -to avoid escalating a minor regional conflict into a superpower confrontation, so the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were forced to look the other way on many instances of terrorism, subversion, espionage and nuclear proliferation involving each other's clients. We had to grin and bear it or strike back at the Soviet bloc with equal indirection, sometimes in a wholly unrelated sphere. This dynamic suited the Soviets well which is why they also fiercely resisted Nixon-Kissinger "linkage" at the bargaining table. Lacking the nuclear tripwire, the need for Washington to pretend hostile actions are anything but hostile was going to fade regardless of who was president, but 9/11 and Bush administration ideological convictions vastly accelerated the process."we don't want Iran to feel cornered."
Translation: "We need Iranian cash. We can't afford to be seen backing down to Washington and continue to be regarded as a viable alternative arms supllier to the United States. We are against you attacking Iran, even though, frankly, we Russians don't like Iranians or Ahmadinejad very much but find Iran useful as a counterweight to American power in the region, and this overrides longer term concerns.""It is a world of one master, one sovereign … it has nothing to do with democracy,” he said. “This is nourishing the wish of countries to get nuclear weapons.”
This is laughable to anyone with rudimentary knowledge of the history of nuclear weapons but it is good propaganda for justifying Russia's assistance to Iran's nuclear weapons program. Nor does possession of a small nuclear arsenal help much against the United States, if Pervez Musharraf is to be believed
. It will help you against your neighbors in your own nation-state weight class though.
How serious is Putin ? Recall that politically, Putin takes the wind out of extremist parties, Right or Left, by preventing them from waving the flags of Nationalism and Neo-Sovietism by doing so himself " responsibly". His governing class, the Siloviki, were entirely insincire Communists in Soviet times, KGB pragmatists who saw the world from the prism of power, carrots, sticks and dirty tricks. The Siloviki hold all the power in Russia and political opposition is effectively neutered and could, if they had chosen to do so, enact far more aggressive anti-Western policies. They and Putin have not because it isn't in their personal interest or Russia's to get into serious conflicts with the U.S. or the E.U.ADDENDUM:
First, thank you to Real Clear Politics
for linking to this post. Much appreciated!
A few Putin links:Thomas P.M. BarnettRedState
Labels: bush, fisking, foreign policy, international law, nuclear, putin, russia, siloviki, soviet union