Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

June 20, 2001

or is Putin playing the American card?

With the end of the cold war, and the implosion of the old Commie empire, there has been a reversal in polarities on the foreign policy question: the Right, formerly aggressive, militaristic, and rabidly interventionist, has done an about-face, and is now the first to question the rationale behind overseas meddling. The Left, which once manned the barricades on behalf of "peace" during the Vietnam era, now wants to know why a Republican President is suddenly going soft on the Russians. These days, Democrats are the warmongers dubbed "internationalists" by their media amen-corner while Republicans (except for Bill Kristol and John McCain) are generally derided in the media as "isolationist" rubes. Of course, to those with a sense or even a rudimentary knowledge of history, this role reversal is not all that surprising. The Left has always been the War Party, when the chips were down, in the periods prior to the outbreak of two world wars. The cold war was an interregnum, a special case in which the liberal-left's loyalty to and sympathy for the Soviet Union was the overriding factor. But now that the Soviets are gone, the Left has been rapidly reverting to its interventionist roots, a process accelerated by the Clinton presidency and, now, by the Bush-Putin summit.


While the response to George W. Bush's European tour has been largely favorable, even amongst those European ingrates who initially sneered and scoffed, back home liberal Democrats are wondering what's gotten into him. The widely-reported comment by the President that he looked into Putin's eyes, got "a sense of his soul," and found him trustworthy was derided on Capitol Hill by congressional Democrats, who practically charged Bush with appeasing the Russian Bear. Jane Perlez, writing in the New York Times, reports that Bush's Capitol Hill critics think the President was too "hasty" in his judgment. We're just glad he didn't totally f*ck it up, was the clear implication of Senator Joe Biden's remarks: but this was just the sarcastic veneer of a more substantive critique. Biden, as the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the Democratic foreign policy point man, and he criticized the President from what is traditionally considered the "right." Noting that Putin is a former KGB operative, Biden declared: "I don't trust Mr. Putin; hopefully the President was being stylistic rather than substantive." Senator Joseph Lieberman, who seems to have stepped into the leadership vacuum in the Democratic party and won the position by default chimed in by dryly remarking that he was struck at such effusiveness on Bush's part after a "first two-hour meeting."


But why shouldn't we trust the Russians? They, after all, are in no position to offer any opposition to our European agenda. Look how supinely Putin rolled over and warmed to the idea of NATO expansion. In answer to a question about the prospects for NATO enlargement and its implications for US-Russian relations, Putin whipped out what he described as a "previously classified" document: Russia's 1954 application for NATO membership! (Of course, the Russian offer to join the ranks of NATO has long been known, albeit downplayed or never even mentioned by the historiographers of cold war mythology.)What's more is that Putin seemed all but ready to renew it. What is going on here?


In the context of explaining why he did not consider NATO an enemy, Putin launched into a long disquisition on the injustices endured by Russian-speakers in Latvia, who are denied citizenship: "We don't send weapons there," he said. "We don't call it terrorism. We don't try to get people to rise up on the basis of national or ethnic origin or religious feelings. We don't encourage people to take up arms to fight against it." Yes, if only the Latvian Russians were Albanians, then perhaps NATO would come flying to their assistance: but perhaps Putin envisions that NATO membership will put pressure on the Latvian government to ameliorate its campaign to disenfranchise and even drive out ethnic Russians. That could be the price of Latvia's NATO membership, and one that they would no doubt be willing to pay if it meant permanently dispelling the fear of absorption by Russia.


Before he even got to Putin, however, Bush had to run the gauntlet, so to speak, enduring various forms of abuse and derision at the hands of the Europeans. The Swedish EU chief honcho descried the threat of "American domination," while leftist demonstrators mooned Bush in the streets: but when the President finally made it to Slovenia, the picture suddenly brightened as Bush played the Russian card against his European tormentors. Bush correctly pointed out that NATO is, at present, no threat to Russia, and Putin seemed to agree. The Democrats were dumbfounded, the Europeans thunderstuck but this merely underscored the deftness of his diplomatic maneuver, which effectively cut the Europeans off at the pass. For what Putin clearly recognizes is that the threat of war with the United States is a relic of the cold war: the only real threat, aside from the internal weakness of his own country, is the consolidation of a European super-state in the West. To the extent that NATO overrides and neutralizes the tendency of the European entity to develop its own military and foreign policy agenda, it is a potential boon and not a threat to Russian interests.


Viewed in the context of a developing US-EU superpower rivalry, Russo-American convergence makes perfect sense. As long as Europe is restrained by the US via NATO, the prospect of a new military threat arising on Russia's Western border can be postponed into the indefinite future. As to whether Putin can influence his newfound friend in the White House to ease up on the former Yugoslavia is an interesting question: it isn't clear whether the two leaders discussed Kosovo (or anything all that specific) during their summit meeting, since public statements by the governments of both sides have been rather opaque. But Putin made a point of his support to President Kostunica by traveling to Belgrade and issuing a joint declaration of intent with Yugoslavia on behalf a new regional peace initiative. The Associated Press reports that the idea is to get the nations of the region to all sign a document "reaffirming the inviolability of state borders and the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of another country." Macedonians will be quite relieved to hear this, and I can't wait to hear Albania's reason for not signing. With the landslide election of King Simeon II's liberal nationalist party in the recent Bulgarian elections, the prospect of a southern Balkan peace concordance, initiated by Russia and endorsed by the US, could head off EU expansion in the region.


Indeed, it is in the south of Europe Austria, Italy, and the Balkans that resistance to the expansion of the EU has been greatest. It is a cultural difference, as well as a political divide, with the southern laissez-faire mentality at war with the northern Germanic insistence on order and regulation. The Soviet Union of the West, as Umberto Bossi trenchantly describes the EU, is bent on extending its influence into the Balkans that, in part, is what the Kosovo war was all about and only Russian influence stands in its way. By going to Belgrade, and meeting with the scholar-statesman who saved Yugoslavia from conquest and communism which is more than President Bush did when Kostunica came to Washington Putin set out an important marker.


Kostunica has berated the small countries of Europe for being far too willing to give up their sovereignty to transnational institutions, and this reassertion of the Little Countries of their identity against the acronymic conglomerate eating up the whole of Europe is bound to be taken up elsewhere: the Irish, the Danes, the Swiss, and, yes, the Padanians and the Basques, are all potential sour notes in the great "concert of Europe." Putin is smart enough to embrace Kostunica, while the US still stupidly keeps its distance. In cooperation with the Eurocrats, the US continues its policy of pressuring Kostunica's government to recognize the International Kangaroo Court for War Crimes in the former Yugoslavia, which is demanding that Yugoslavia extradite former strongman Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague. Such a course runs directly counter to US interests, but the rigid insistence on maintaining the Clinton administration's unconditional support for the EU prevents US policymakers from seeing where their true interests lie.


To understand what is happening in Europe today it is necessary to do more than merely cast off the blinders of the cold war mentality and abandon the outdated concept of bipolarity. In spite of the French insistence that the US is some kind of "hyperpower," and despite the hyperbole of "unilaterialist" neoconservatives like Charles Krauthammer, who imagine that we live in a "unipolar" world, what we are seeing in Europe is the interplay of nations on a multi-polar playing field. The German-French alliance, with England reluctantly allowing itself to be towed along, is rapidly moving in the direction of consolidating the kind of continental political and economic power not seen since the days of Napoleon and it is Russia that has the most to fear from this Napoleonic vision.


By tilting toward Russia, the Bush administration is going in the right direction: but more (and quicker) action is sorely needed. The Balkan question looms larger every day, with Macedonia on the brink of dissolution and the rampaging Albanians threatening the peace of Europe. If George W. Bush wants to make up for Bill Clinton's war crimes in the bombing of Yugoslavia, he can stop supporting the witch-like Carla Del Ponte, and get her off of Kostunica's back. That would be a good start, but there's more to it than that. . . .


Why not call off the US-funded mad-dogs of the Kosovo "Liberation" Front that have now been unleashed on Macedonia? Then, perhaps, we wouldn't need to acquiesce in the face of European demands for NATO intervention in Macedonia and Bush could undercut plaintive cries from our "allies" for more American soldiers in the Balkans. Bush burbled that "a Europe whole and free" is the goal of American policy but a United Socialist States of Europe is anything but free, as the Austrians and the Irish and no doubt others are discovering. When will the White House wake up? Why not give the Europeans tit for tat and stop paying lip service to pan-Europeanism?


But that, of course, would be expecting too much of this Administration, which seems determined to be all things to all people. We are for the EU Bush averred that he "enjoyed the competition" and for Putin, and our national slogan seems to be "Have a nice day!" As the seeds of renewed superpower contention are being planted, in Europe and around the globe, the genial American cowboy struts about on the world stage without a care in the world. This carefree attitude reflects the mindless triumphalism prevalent in American elite circles: the end of the cold war is seen as the beginning of a New American Century, the "unipolar moment" in which American hegemony ensures the peace and all's right with the world. Some have even theorized that we are at "the end of history," with no more ideological or large-scale military conflict on the horizon, and only blue skies as far as the eye can see. But the lesson of history, as well as the trend of current events, indicates that this is the calm before the storm. . . .

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