Honest American voices
Foreign Affairs; Now a Word From X
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
His voice is a bit frail now, but the mind, even at age 94, is as sharp as ever. So when I reached George Kennan by phone to get his reaction to the Senate’s ratification of NATO expansion it was no surprise to find that the man who was the architect of America’s successful containment of the Soviet Union and one of the great American statesmen of the 20th century was ready with an answer.
”I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. ”I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”
”What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,” added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed ”X,” defined America’s cold-war containment policy for 40 years. ”I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.
”And Russia’s democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we’ve just signed up to defend from Russia,” said Mr. Kennan, who joined the State Department in 1926 and was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in 1952. ”It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.”
One only wonders what future historians will say. If we are lucky they will say that NATO expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic simply didn’t matter, because the vacuum it was supposed to fill had already been filled, only the Clinton team couldn’t see it. They will say that the forces of globalization integrating Europe, coupled with the new arms control agreements, proved to be so powerful that Russia, despite NATO expansion, moved ahead with democratization and Westernization, and was gradually drawn into a loosely unified Europe. If we are unlucky they will say, as Mr. Kennan predicts, that NATO expansion set up a situation in which NATO now has to either expand all the way to Russia’s border, triggering a new cold war, or stop expanding after these three new countries and create a new dividing line through Europe.
But there is one thing future historians will surely remark upon, and that is the utter poverty of imagination that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the late 1990’s. They will note that one of the seminal events of this century took place between 1989 and 1992 — the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which had the capability, imperial intentions and ideology to truly threaten the entire free world. Thanks to Western resolve and the courage of Russian democrats, that Soviet Empire collapsed without a shot, spawning a democratic Russia, setting free the former Soviet republics and leading to unprecedented arms control agreements with the U.S.
And what was America’s response? It was to expand the NATO cold-war alliance against Russia and bring it closer to Russia’s borders.
Yes, tell your children, and your children’s children, that you lived in the age of Bill Clinton and William Cohen, the age of Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger, the age of Trent Lott and Joe Lieberman, and you too were present at the creation of the post-cold-war order, when these foreign policy Titans put their heads together and produced . . . a mouse.
We are in the age of midgets. The only good news is that we got here in one piece because there was another age — one of great statesmen who had both imagination and courage.
As he said goodbye to me on the phone, Mr. Kennan added just one more thing: ”This has been my life, and it pains me to see it so screwed up in the end.”
Putin: Crazy like a fox
By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News
Putin: Crazy Like a Fox – Consortium News
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine goes on, the world wonders what the reason was behind such a precipitous act. The pro-Ukraine crowd has put forth a narrative constructed around the self-supporting themes of irrationality on the part of a Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his post-Cold War fantasies of resurrecting the former Soviet Union.
This narrative ignores that, far from acting on a whim, the Russian president is working from a playbook that he initiated as far back as 2007, when he addressed the Munich Security Conference and warned the assembled leadership of Europe of the need for a new security framework to replace existing unitary system currently in place, built as it was around a trans-Atlantic alliance (NATO) led by the United States.
Moreover, far from seeking the reconstitution of the former Soviet Union, Putin is simply pursuing a post-Cold War system which protects the interests and security of the Russian people, including those who, through no fault of their own, found themselves residing outside the borders of Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In this age of politicized narrative shaping, which conforms to the demands of domestic political imperatives as opposed to geopolitical reality, fact-based logic is not in vogue. For decades now, the Russian leadership has been confronting a difficult phenomenon where Western democracies, struggling to deal with serious fractures derived from their own internal weakness, produce political leadership lacking in continuity of focus and purpose in foreign and national security relations.
Whereas Russia has had the luxury of having consistent leadership for the past two decades, and can look to another decade or more of the same, Western leadership is transient in nature. One need only reflect on the fact that Putin has, in his time in office, dealt with five U.S. presidents who, because of the alternating nature of the political parties occupying the White House, have produced policies of an inconsistent and contradictory nature.
The White House is held hostage to the political constraints imposed by the reality of domestic partisan politics. “It’s the economy, stupid” resonates far more than any fact-based discussion about the relevance of post-Cold War NATO. What passes for a national discussion on the important issues of foreign and national security are, more often than not, reduced to pithy phrases. The complexities of a balanced dialogue are replaced by a good-versus-evil simplicity more readily digested by an electorate where potholes and tax rates matter more than geopolitics.
Rather than try to explain to the American people the historical roots of Putin’s concerns with an expanding NATO membership, or the impracticalities associated with any theoretical reconstitution of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. political elite instead define Putin as an autocratic dictator (he is not) possessing grandiose dreams of a Russian-led global empire (no such dreams exist).
It is impossible to reason with a political counterpart whose policy formulations need to conform with ignorance-based narratives. Russia, confronted with the reality that neither the U.S. nor NATO were willing to engage in a responsible discussion about the need for a European security framework which transcended the inherent instability of an expansive NATO seeking to encroach directly on Russia’s borders, took measures to change the framework in which such discussions would take place.
Russia had been seeking to create a neutral buffer between it and NATO through agreements which would preclude NATO membership for Ukraine and distance NATO combat power from its borders by insisting the alliance’s military-technical capabilities be withdrawn behind NATO’s boundaries as they existed in 1997. The U.S. and NATO rejected the very premise of such a dialogue.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine must be evaluated within this context. By invading Ukraine, Russia is creating a new geopolitical reality which revolves around the creation of a buffer of allied Slavic states (Belarus and Ukraine) that abuts NATO in a manner like the Cold War-era frontier represented by the border separating East and West Germany.
Russia has, by redeploying the 1st Guards Tank Army onto the territory of Belarus, militarized this buffer, creating the conditions for the kind of standoff that existed during the Cold War. The U.S. and NATO will have to adjust to this new reality, spending billions to resurrect a military capability that has atrophied since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Here’s the punchline — the likelihood that Europe balks at a resumption of the Cold War is high. And when it does, Russia will be able to exchange the withdrawal of its forces from Belarus and Ukraine in return for its demands regarding NATO’s return to the 1997 boundaries.
Vladimir Putin may, in fact, be crazy — crazy like a fox.