Friday, 14 October 2016

Russia: America's new bogeyman?

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, members of the American Foreign Policy Establishment (FPE) have been suffering from what former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman has described as the Enemy Depravation Syndrome (EDS).


Guanyu said...

Russia: America's new bogeyman?

Leon Hadar
14 October 2016

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, members of the American Foreign Policy Establishment (FPE) have been suffering from what former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman has described as the Enemy Depravation Syndrome (EDS).

After all, for close to five decades, the spectre of a powerful global political and military superpower threatening core US national interests and challenging its central ideological principles served as raison d'etre for expanding American military presence and promoting an ideological crusade worldwide.

It wasn't only the generals at the Pentagon and the spies at the Central Intelligence Agency who had benefited from the continuing rivalry between the two superpowers in terms of defence spending and military intervention.

The struggle against international communism made it possible for the elites in Washington - ranging from the president to low-ranking congressional staff - with the help of the pundits in the Mainstream Media (MSM) to mobilise the American people behind their leaders.

So it wasn't surprising that when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet bloc was no more, a sense of anxiety dawned on many in Washington. A search then began for a new global bogeyman to replace the militarily routed and economically bankrupted former Soviet Union that was transformed from a superpower into a second-rate global power aka the Russian Federation.

And, indeed, since the early 1990s when the communists (or Red Menace) ceased to exist, efforts to deal with Washington's EDS has led members of the FPE to take advantage of the never-ending international crises.

They constructed new threats, ranging from the occasional "mini me" such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein or Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic to the spectre of a mighty military and ideological challenge such as radical Islam (the Green Menace) or rising China (the Yellow Menace), that were supposed to be substitutes for the old Soviet Union, the Red Menace.

Now in an intriguing twist of history, the new Russia seems to be gradually returning to assume the role that the old Soviet Union had played in the past. Or at least that is the way things are seen by many in Washington.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin, unlike his Soviet predecessors in the Kremlin, was elected in a mostly free and open election and is not commanding a global superpower.

He is a Russian nationalist leader who is first and foremost committed to advancing his country's traditional national interests in Europe and the Middle East that are seen by many of his countrymen to be challenged by the United States and its allies.

In fact, contrary to earlier commitments by US administrations, Nato had invited former Soviet bloc members, in eastern Europe and the Baltics, to join the Western military organisation. And the Americans have been exploiting groups that are partly funded by the US government to promote its democratic values in Russia as well as in former member states of the Soviet Union, such as Ukraine, in the form of so-called "Colour Revolutions".

Indeed, one of the reasons Mr Putin remains so popular among Russians is that he has taken steps to reassert Russian power, by thwarting an attempt by its neighbour Ukraine to join the European Union (EU) and by maintaining Russian presence in the Middle East.

Washington and its allies condemned the Moscow-backed secession by the Russian population of Crimea from Ukraine as "aggression". But then you cannot blame the Russians of accusing the West of hypocrisy since it celebrated a similar move by the Muslim Kosovars when they seceded from Serbia in 1994.

The politicians and the pundits have depicted Russian support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and its deployment of troops to that country, as part of an anti-American strategy.

Guanyu said...

But the fact is that not only has Syria been a long-time client state of Moscow but the Russians have maintained presence in the Middle East going back to the 19th century. They also have legitimate concerns over the spread of radical Islam in what is considered to be their strategic backyard.

Mr Putin does make a good point when he recalls that the ouster of Saddam by the Americans has destabilised the country, strengthened the power of radical Islamists and created the conditions for the rise of the murderous Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). His alliance with President Assad is aimed at defeating the ISIS and he has called for Russian-American cooperation in achieving that goal.

But foreign policy professionals in Washington, including the neoconservative intellectuals who were the driving force behind the Iraq war, have rejected any kind of policy that would leave the authoritarian and unsavoury Mr Assad in power in Damascus. However, they don't seem to have any problem with helping protect the medieval monarchs of Saudi Arabia.

The Obama administration has actually taken steps to work with the Russians in resolving the crisis in Syria, but ended the cooperation with Russia after its forces bombed and killed civilians in Aleppo, not unlike the conduct by American forces fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Moreover, officials in Washington have intensified their anti-Russia campaign by accusing the Kremlin of intervening in the US presidential elections - by hacking into the Internet servers operated by the Democratic Party and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. But the Americans have yet to provide evidence that would support these allegations.

That hasn't prevented Democrats and the MSM from accusing Mr Putin of being behind the recent WikiLeaks reports that helped tarnish Mrs Clinton's image and of supposedly trying to assist Donald Trump getting elected as president in November.

But again while there is a lot of evidence to support allegations of an American role in influencing elections in the former Soviet Union, the notion of a collusion between Mr Putin and Mr Trump (the two have never met) sounds like nothing more than the outline of an entertaining political thriller.

That Mr Putin isn't leading an anti-American campaign or that Russia shouldn't be regarded as Washington's new bogeyman, doesn't mean that the interests of Russia and the US are compatible and that Americans shouldn't be concerned about, and in some cases take action against, Russian strategic moves.

In a way, like in the case of China, Russia is neither an enemy nor a friend of the US, but a "frenemy". That suggests that the two countries could cooperate on many issues, such as fighting the ISIS and radical Islam in the Middle East.

At the same time, Washington needs to respond aggressively if and when the Russians try to expand their influence beyond their legitimate spheres of influence - for example, using its military power to threaten Poland and the Baltic states.

But nationalist Russia isn't the former Soviet Union. It isn't trying to establish a dominant position on a global scale or to assert its hegemony in regions such as in the Middle East. And it certainly isn't exporting its values to the rest of the world.

If anything, the current Washington-driven campaign to target Russia as a new global threat that would require taking decisive action against it, including by employing military power, could prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.