Saturday, June 16, 2012

Russia and the U.S.: Partners Once Again?

Despite the public clash regarding the disagreements over Syria, it seems Russia and the U.S. are finding ways to work together.  As it was regarding World War Two, it is difficult to fathom the benefits to the U.S. of this partnership.  Certainly there are few benefits to the recipients of this cooperation.

Russia is causing and allowing obedient neighboring countries to support the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. 

The United States is now sending almost all its supplies for the Afghan war through Russia or countries obedient to Moscow. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan would not allow US convoys had Russian President Vladimir Putin not sanctioned it.

There must be some benefit to Russia for ensuring this route. 

Russia and the US share an interest in countering Islamist militancy in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It is easier to see Russia’s interest in this, as these handful of militants are far more a threat to Russian lands than they are to the United States.  Perhaps the U.S. is just looking for a face-saving way out of this mess – without help from the Russians, options for the U.S. for a face saving exit are quite limited.

This route has taken away the leverage that Pakistani generals had over the US by virtue of the importance of the southern convoy routes.

But this is the Russians.  Is the U.S. once again fighting a war to make another region of the world safe for…who, exactly?  I think there are more layers to this onion, and one or two are peeled in the subject commentary:

The importance of US supply lines into Afghanistan, in the eyes of the Kremlin, is not limited to the war and a show of cooperation. Putin is an avid student of state power and economics and knows that during the American Civil War (1861-65), the army built up the rail and telegraphic infrastructure which contributed mightily to the nation's subsequent economic boom; during World War II, the US built ports and air bases around the world that later expanded global commerce; and the port facilities and logistical hubs of the Vietnam war have proved useful to the Hanoi government long after the US departed in 1975.

Putin is also knowledgeable in judo, a martial art in which the expert uses his opponents' strengths to his advantage. In the Central Asian case, however, both partners will benefit though not equally. As the limitations of the roads, depots, and rail lines running from the Black Sea and Baltic Sea into Central Asia become clear to NATO logistics experts, it will be necessary to improve, expand and modernize them.

The US will build an infrastructure system that Russia and other countries in the region will benefit from for many decades.

This is the heart of it, I believe.  The point of the war is not for resources, control of oil or gas, pipelines, etc. – was the U.S. fighting for Russian access to these resources?  It certainly wasn’t for fighting terrorism.

The purpose of western wars, for likely at least two hundred years, is for control.  And not for control by a state actor – in this case, not for control by the U.S. or Russia – but for control under a regulatory state, any regulatory state: central banking being the key, but not only, feature of the tools for subtle and not so subtle control of and theft from the middle class.  This control does not care about national boundaries, despite using national armies to achieve its objectives.

The key is roads, trains, and other transportation infrastructure.  These allow the central state to spread its range of control.  This specific point is well addressed by James Scott in “The Art of NOT Being Governed.”  As does Brian Downing in this piece, Mr. Scott suggests the region from Vietnam to Afghanistan is a region where, until recently, state power did not extend.  It is also a region where force has been used – first by Britain, then France, then the Soviets, and now the United States – to try to bring the inhabitants of this region under control.  Regarding Scott’s book, I have previously written:

Vietnam on one end and Afghanistan on the other. These two bookends have a couple of shared relationships.

I have come to appreciate that the underlying objective of the wars of the West over the last 100 years and more is for control. Not for oil, not to stop the spread of Communism, not to make the world safe for democracy, not for women’s rights, not for WMD. Just control.

If a region can be brought under control, then all exploitation is available to the conqueror. Yes, this may also include exploitation of local natural resources, but mostly it appears it is for exploitation of the population through the mechanisms of western style regulatory democracy: central banking and funny money, taxes, corporate-state mercantilism, etc.

Has there ever been a more thorough system of control developed than this western style of democracy? Better than slavery and serfdom, as the victims of the modern western state are groomed to one day (perhaps after a generation or two) be voluntarily plucked.

So what of the two shared relationships? Let’s go to the less obvious (at least to me before I read this book) first. The two bookends (and the regions in between) shared the feature that they were quite ungoverned in the altitudes above approximately 300 meters. No state was receiving the benefit of exploiting the population.

Now to the more obvious shared relationship: the two share the position of being on the opposite side in multiple and various wars against western powers. In hindsight, it is very difficult for any standard explanation regarding the purpose and objectives for the war in Vietnam to hold together. For Afghanistan, we don’t even need much hindsight. This war and its objectives cannot be explained in any conventional manner.

So what if the objective in each case was merely control, control for exploitation of the populace via the mechanisms of western political and economic levers? Tried and proven levers useful to extract wealth from a (eventually) compliant population.

The key is the roads – the transportation infrastructure.  This allows the central state access.  Scott has made this point as well.  Russia is cooperating with the United States – and vice versa – because the roads will be built by the United States that will allow Russia to extend control into these regions.  This control will not be for the benefit of the local population – they and their ancestors have fled to these regions purposefully to avoid the state.

Russian control of these regions will not help the citizens of the United States, but they will help those who benefit from the efficient centralizing mechanisms of regulatory democracy.

In the past, Russia learned that it could not exercise and maintain control in this region without U.S. cooperation.  The U.S. is learning the counter lesson today.  Perhaps this cooperation is a result of this learning.  In any case, once controlled, money power will win.  This is the purpose of the wars.  Nothing more.

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