Wednesday, March 2

Anti-jive Policy

"Hey, Dita like this is the first fan letter I ever wrote. Like I see where you're comin from man, I'm rappin about you. You don't let nobody past. You the anti-jive machine. Also you got me interested in foreign policy. It's all connected man, like I see that now. I can tell you why Bush opened fire on Putin. Putin dissed him, man. Like Bush had to refrigerate him.
[Signed] DetroitTHX5"

Dear DetroitTHX5:

That's an interesting if somewhat ornate thesis. Let's see if we can work our way through it. The protocol is that national leaders refrain from giving public support to political candidates in another country. Putin broke the protocol when he came out in support for Bush during the US presidential campaign. By doing so, he conveyed that his friendship with Bush took precedence over protocol, which would imply a close friendship. However, several of Putin's actions as head of state did not show friendship to Bush or the US war on terror.

Thus, it could be argued that Putin was practicing diplomacy judo--using Bush's own statement of friendship against him in order to gain a political advantage, and making Bush lose Face in the process. From that angle, Bush would be required to restore Face by verbally punching Putin in the face. It all makes perfect sense after a few beers.

On the other hand, the thesis ignores the similarly tough language used by Secretary Powell in the immediate wake of the Beslan massacre; Powell as much told the Russians that they had brought Beslan on themselves through the way they handled the Chechen situation. And it ignores the reportedly very tough language Secretary Rice used during the recent meeting with her Russian counterpart.

All this tough talk has been around for months in the Establishment US news media and voiced by certain factions in the GOP and Democrat party. To be specific, the talk burst into the US news during the election in Ukraine and has escalated since

However, Bush is famous for not following Washington Groupthink and media opinion, which lends some support to your thesis. So, on balance, it's possible there was something personal behind Bush's decision to beat up on Russia during the Brussels speech. I note that the passage about Russia was a last-minute addition, unless the White House kept it under wraps. The version of the speech released to the press the day before did not contain the toughly worded passage.

Whether or not Bush had an ax to grind with Putin, Pundita is getting a bad feeling about all this uniformly tough talk. It smacks of a programmatic approach, which translates to adopting an attitude in place of dialogue. The Russians are known to respect toughness in political leaders. But they're equally known for intellectualism and polemics. All these traits were on abundant display during a 3-1/2 hour press conference that Putin held soon after the Beslan massacre.

That press conference was a humdinger. Putin accused the United States and the United Kingdom of being responsible for the Beslan terrorist attack. He accused the US and the UK of colluding in a plot to destabilize Russia by fomenting anti-Russian sentiment in former Soviet republics. He accused the US and UK of being behind the breakaway movement in Chechnya. He clearly implied that the US and UK were trying to topple his government. And just to make sure he was perfectly understood, Putin came right out and said that the US and the UK had launched a covert war against Russia.

I add that Putin's remarks got very little coverage in the US media and only in attenuated form. The remarks were widely reported in painstaking detail by the European press and pored over and parsed for many days, to the great enjoyment of the Europeans who love opera and hate the Coalition invasion of Iraq. They particularly liked the part about Carthage. After he'd blown off steam it occurred to him that conjuring the image of Russia reduced to a salt flat was not a boost to Russian tourism and trade so eventually he scaled back on his accusations. However, he stuck by the gist, which still amounts to very serious charges.

I can't speak to the accusations about the United Kingdom but there is a grain of truth in the accusations directed at the US. It is true that some Chechens who eventually became terrorists got their original training in CIA-sponsored camps; this was during the Afghan struggle against the Soviet Union. In those days the US was training anyone who was willing to fight the Soviets, which included Arabs who became al Qaeda members.

With regard to the rest of the accusations about terrorism, it sounds as if Putin moved history forward to gloss the present. I would not be surprised to learn that British and US agents helped in Chechnya, as they did in every republic that wanted to break away from the Soviet Empire. And surely there are still groups in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics who are helping the Chechen separatist movement. However, by the mid-90s, the love affair between the oligarchs and America was such that the US (and Britain) had a vested interest in seeing that Russia was as stable as possible.

The truth is that Chechnya became a magnet for al Qaeda; when the going got tough for AQ after the US crackdown Tehran stepped in with money, arms, and training. This said, it's wrong to dismiss Putin's studious blindness to the present as cynicism. True, Russia is doing big business with Arab countries that are known to be sponsoring terrorist organizations and with Iran, which is ruled by a terror-sponsoring regime. But we have to look at our own situation in the wake of 9/11 to understand Moscow's struggle with reality.

No State Department worker wanted to accept a certain number of terrorist attacks on the US as the price for doing business with Saudi Arabia, and with other countries that are tolerant of terrorist organizations or involved with funding them. But as the facts piled up in the wake of 9/11, the response behind closed doors in Washington was, 'Omigod, what are we going to do? We're in up to our necks with these governments.'

The same sentiments were expressed behind closed doors in Paris, London, and Berlin. Moscow had a delayed reaction; they clung to the idea that Russia had more leverage with the same governments because Russia wasn't dependent on any country for energy supplies. They thought that if push came to shove, they could make threats and make them stick. Thus, they learned the hard way that threats only work if you can deliver them to the enemy. The enemy in this case is like smoke.

To put all this another way, on September 11, 2001, the earth when seen from a satellite was a sea of ostrich bottoms. Everyone had their head stuck in the sand--and this includes the Israelis. They had tunnel vision about China's role in selling weapons and nuclear weapon technology to states that sponsor terrorism. The Israelis were hyperfocused on Arab terrorism and the terror-sponsoring regime in Iran. And the focus made them blind to the connection between terrorism and the Russian mobs that had burrowed into the Israeli financial markets. Every time there was a terror attack on Israel the Israeli military would ring up the mobsters and ask, 'You're not doing any smuggling deals with our enemies, are you?'

In reply, the mobsters would throw on a prayer shawl and go kiss the Wailing Wall.

This said, the Israelis had the only functioning and I mean only functioning intelligence organization among our allies. It's awful to contemplate the extent to which intelligence-gathering among NATO countries had fallen into disrepair. Now one might reasonably ask why the US didn't make use of Israeli intelligence during the decade running up to 9/11, if US intel was a basket case. One has to understand something about budget wars in Washington to get the full picture. There were intelligence analysts who spent the 90s piling Israeli intelligence data on Washington and drawing little stick figures in the effort to illustrate the growing danger to the US from Arab terrorism. The response in Washington boiled down to, "Oh it's just the Jews trying to scare up more aid dollars for Israel."

How could so many reasonably intelligent, sane people the world over be so blind to a steadily growing threat--a threat that was not hidden, but which continuously announced itself with escalating terrorist attacks?

The answer is buried under layers of myriad causes and conditions, which is why the world is lucky that George W. Bush landed in the White House. Bush has a drill-down mind; he has a knack for reaching through layers and grabbing onto the precipitating factor in a problem. The answer is quite simply that people were blind because they were up against something completely new. Seeing begins in the mind, which relies on memory. There was no memory, no way to think about what the new threat looked like, until after 9/11.

What Bush saw after 9/11 is that civilization had reached the point where it's suicidal for nations to allow expediency to govern their foreign relations.

Bush used simpler words to describe the problem; he said in essence that it was time to call a spade a spade, to say what you mean and mean what you say, and stick to your guns. However, the message was greatly obscured by the dust raised during the first years of the war on terror. Also, the war, and particularly the Iraq campaign, turned the Beltway into an armed camp of factions at State, Pentagon, CIA and Congress.

But the world changed on the day that Paul Bremer was ordered back to Washington from the Green Zone in Baghdad. The yelling inside the White House could be heard from across the Potomac. Pundita was not privy to exactly what was yelled, but the drift of the conversation was plainly evident in Bremer's actions when he returned to his duties in the Green Zone. He stopped practicing expediency and took actions that were in line with the promises that Bush had made to the Iraqi people.

From that day forward, the Bush administration made a wholehearted attempt to ditch Cold War policy, which had degenerated into a textbook on expediency. The response from the State Department and the CIA? They were so horrified at Bush's attempt to destroy the linchpin of foreign policy that they redoubled their efforts to block his reelection. They did this by deploying a machine-gun series of 'leaks' that portrayed Bush as an inept president and commander-in-chief.

The Beltway Wars continued even after Bush's reelection but slowly and surely, the White House is winning because many Americans are now at their back. This includes members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, and people inside State and the CIA. In short, it's taken a few years, but many people inside Washington are starting to 'get' what Bush has been trying to convey. Bush's second Inaugural speech and his speech at Brussels are not there yet. But they come close to articulating an epoch-making shift in US foreign policy.

The radical aspect of the shift diverts attention from its common sense. With hindsight, it's just plain stupid during these days of EFTs, Coach Class and portable nukes to give training, money and arms to people whose concept of civilization boils down to eating with a knife and fork. And it's plumb loco to turn your back on them, once your immediate need for them is finished.

So while Pundita basks in your compliment, it's really President Bush who's the anti-jive machine. I'm simply trying to fill out the basic idea Bush sketched and explore how to put it into practice. Many people the world over are engaged in this same effort, and the more the better. We're all out here in new territory, trying to lay down paths that we're improvising as we stumble along.

The problem is that civilization was raised on the foundation of expediency. True, expediency always had a way of blowing back on the government that relied on it to deal with neighbors and marauding tribes, but relying heavily on expediency got humanity this far. So if we're going to rely more on integrity and consistency in foreign relations, there are many wrinkles to be ironed out.

The sticking point is that is there's no such thing as partial integrity. You either have it or you don't. Ditto for consistency. So if you see "Made in China" stamped on weapons used by terror sponsoring regimes, what are you supposed to do? Tell Wal-Mart to stop trading with China? And should we return to horse and buggy until we figure a way to cease dependence on oil imported from autocratic or totalitarian regimes? The most vexing question is how far a nation should take a principled stand if the stand pits the nation against much of the world.

Yet 9/11, 3/11 and Beslan testify that humanity no longer has a choice about confronting the point Bush brought out. We've got to find ways to bring foreign policy in line with the basic ideals of modern democratic civilization. This is because data show that democracies tend to refrain from hot war and don't create large numbers of citizens who export terrorism around the world. The question is how to proceed according to what the data indicate.

Russia's advice in this regard should be welcomed, yet we don't have the luxury of engaging in weighty discussion during peacetime. The inescapable truth is that Russia is selling arms and dual-use nuclear technology to governments that are active enemies of the United States.

Russia is not alone in doing trade with US enemies. They are following the lead of China and the most powerful nations in the European Union. So it's practicing a double standard to criticize Russia on the issue without doing the same with allies.

Pundita can understand Bush taking a softer public with US allies. However, the uniformly tough talk to Moscow that has emerged from Washington during the past year smacks of a programmatic approach. This translates to adopting 'attitude' in place of dialogue.

The Russians are known to respect a tough attitude. However, they're equally known for intellectualism and polemics. All these traits were on abundant display during Putin's 3-1/2 hour press conference.

Thus, if Washington's tough attitude is not accompanied by informed debate and dialogue, the Russians will continue to throw out polemics and rationalizations that go unanswered by the US because attitude isn't reply.

Also, Washington could do more to bring the implementation of foreign policy in line with policy rhetoric. Putin has invoked the US Civil War in defending Russia's right to subdue a breakaway republic--Chechnya. We don't need to agree with the analogy but US policy should recognize Russia's policy toward Chechnya.

If we want to allow a Chechen rebel leader to take asylum in the United States, that's one issue. However, Russia has designated the leader as a terrorist. If we claim a willingness to work with Russia in the war on terror, our policy should match our words to the extent we can accomplish this without betraying our principles. That means the US government should not have direct or indirect dealings with the Chechen leader and should not provide him with financial or any kind of material assistance.

If US intelligence on Chechnya is so poor that we're rationalizing assistance to the leader as means to get good intel on Chechnya and Russia--this is a problem with US intelligence gathering, one that shouldn't drag foreign policy into it.

Also, the US government should ensure that the Chechen leader knows the difference between taking asylum and using the US as a base of operations against Russia.

The same observations apply to US government dealings with the Russian oligarchs who recently attended a White House prayer breakfast. Those oligarchs are fugitives from Russian justice. There's an Interpol warrant out on them. There was no need to give them asylum in this country; they have asylum in Israel. Inviting them to the US and showcasing them at a White House function was a nasty way of telling Moscow that Washington doesn't think the oligarchs should be considered criminals.

Okay. But then Moscow doesn't think Tehran should be designated a terror-sponsoring regime. They don't think Tehran will convert the nuclear technology that Russia is selling them into nuclear weapons. They don't think the Iranian military will figure out how to convert the vehicle-mounted rocket launchers that Russia's selling Syria into shoulder-fired launchers.

If Washington disagrees with Moscow's thinking--well, if foreign policy is silly putty, what's there to disagree with? Why have policy, if whatever thoughts pop into your mind can shift policy on a dime?

If rationality comes from the point of a gun, right now the United States is a paragon of reason because our guns are bigger and in better working order than any other nation's. But the enemy is not only making use of guns. He's turning humans into bombs. To win against such an enemy requires a great deal of cooperation from other nations, to include Russia.

The concept of cooperation has a rational basis, which is grounded in consistently applied policy. If we expect cooperation we need more than a good rap about democracy. We need to bring the implementation of foreign policy in line with fine words about policy. Else, all the fine words are just jive.


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