Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault

Don’t believe me?  Don’t believe it is true?  Well, I didn’t write it, and it doesn’t matter if you think it is true.  The important thing is who wrote it:

JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER is R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

More important is where it was written – in Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations (HT EPJ):

According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression…But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis.

After describing the various moves by the west toward Eastern Europe and Russia:

For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president -- which he rightly labeled a “coup” -- was the final straw.

Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly.

Mearsheimer blames policy elites in the West:

Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics.

They “subscribe to a flawed view” because this is the view that they have been trained to hold.  It is a view that perhaps “worked” when destabilizing the Middle East and North Africa. 

They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.

There is a “relevance” to the “realism” that Russia represents as opposed to, say, Libya.  The realism is relative military might; more importantly the realism is having nuclear weapons.  The elite don’t want a nuclear war any more than the rest of us do – they will be equally dead.

The world has lived under this threat ever since scientists unleashed this power in the deserts of the United States.  Of course, the US government needlessly made this threat real twice; but there has been more than one near miss since.

What is different today when compared to the time of the Cold War?  The elite lived under this threat continuously for over forty years, during a time when the Cold War, in many ways, served their purposes.  I may have found an answer in Martin van Creveld’s book, “The Rise and Decline of the State”:

Appearing as they did at the end, and as a result, of the largest armed conflict ever waged, nuclear weapons took a long time before their stultifying effects on future war was realized.

The reality set in, according to Creveld, in 1962:

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, which for a few days in October 1962 seemed to have brought the world to the verge of nuclear doom, the superpowers became more notably cautious.

He goes on to list the several treaties regarding nuclear weapons that were subsequently negotiated between the US and USSR.

Back to the topic at hand: I have suggested often – the bureaucrats are doing what they have been trained and programmed to do – and pushing Russia is merely an outcome of this training.  The elites – the ones above the presidents and bureaucrats – have done their job of training the bureaucrats too well and now want to pull back on the reigns of the Frankenstein’s monster they have created, the US government as tool of global consolidation.

Back to Mearsheimer:

But this grand scheme went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant -- and states that ignore it do so at their own peril.

The rest of Mearsheimer’s essay explains the history of how the relationship transformed from one defined by realpolitik to one of hegemony.  It makes for good reading, but is a subject beyond the scope of my post.

Even in a vacuum, Mearsheimer’s essay is noteworthy; this is the CFR, after all.  But his essay is not offered in a vacuum.  Five months ago, Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, penned a similar essay – albeit, placing most of the blame on Russia, but also placing blame on the Americans:

Russians, Americans, Europeans, and Ukrainians plunge on toward the all-time foreign policy record for venality, lying, hypocrisy and self-destructive maneuvers. They show no shame and scant regard for consequences. At this moment, Russia is the most to blame for having transformed a very bad situation into a crisis. Top U.S. officials contribute with their daily evocation of saintly principles that the United States itself has often defied. Experts and politicians goad the White House on with demands for tough actions against Russia that they surely know will fail. Europeans continue their feckless ways. And most Ukrainian leaders of all stripes and ethnicities remain monumentally corrupt and rhetorically dishonest.

This pile of garbage and ineptitude is heading in one direction—toward a long-term crisis very costly to all.

When I wrote about this at the time (within a post suggesting that Rand Paul turning half-neocon was going in a direction not desired by the elite), I offered it as one more example of the elite not wanting nuclear war – and that the belligerence of many in the US government was a risk in this regard.

Henry Kissinger, whose face is found in the encyclopedia entry for the term “realpolitik,” also recently has written about getting the US government to back-off from the bellicosity.  In my review of his essay, I concluded:

Now, I will admit that someone viewing Henry’s essay through a different lens could come to different conclusions.  I admit I have a particular view on the goings-on around us: global governance and consolidation has seen its best days, at least for this era.  Things are coming apart – and the primary tool used in the last 70 years (the US government) has not only failed, it is getting too dangerous for even the survival of the elite.  There is no easily co-opted “next” (e.g. China) to ride on this parade toward global government.  It is time to back off, at least for now.

I conclude Henry has this same view.

The elite want to change course.  Consolidation of global governance has seen its best days, at least for this age.  The risks of continuing on this path are too great for even the elite to survive.

My best bit of evidence?  Look no further than the current resident in the oval office.  Why was Obama brought out of nowhere to win the presidency in 2008?  What was wrong with either Hillary or McCain?

I know Obama has not been a “peace” president.  However, ask yourself what Syria would look like today had either Hillary or McCain reached office.  Do you believe either of them would have backed off from bombing a year ago?  Would they have drawn down in Iraq or Afghanistan?  And how might either of the two of them handle Ukraine?  Whatever is happening under Obama’s watch is miniscule when compared to what would likely have happened under bomb’s away McCain or we came, we saw, he died Hillary.

The elite put people in place that they believe will act in a certain way – this way, they don’t have to pull the puppet’s strings every day.  They chose Obama; fighting wars and all the rest of the war on terror doesn’t come naturally to him – he is acting against type.  

Turning a ship the size of the US war machine – one going full-speed-ahead – takes time.  Hence, Obama is fighting some wars longer than his supporters believed he would.  That ship, the US war machine, is still stocked chock-full of people with their heads full of hegemony – Obama can’t work in a vacuum, either.

But if these essays by members of the CFR and by powerful voices such as Kissinger’s mean anything, they mean that the elite want the ship to turn (a great opening for Rand Paul, if he wasn’t doing so much to ruin his chances).

For the sake of humanity, let’s hope the elite have as much influence as some of us believe they have.


  1. BM; I would like to see you sometimes write from the common man's viewpoint in these conflicts, too. While understand that you like to write about the grand scheme of things as the elite are the main movers in human history but sometimes there are genuine revolutions and game changers starting from the grassroots. As you know from our previous exchange, I believe that Ukraine could be one of those: there IS a genuine group of people who are fed up with the corruption of the local elite, the ruling criminal gangs (many times both the same group), the backward thinking left over from soviet times, and they really want freedom and independence. It's very unfortunate that they live in the "borderlands" of empires; so the question is: will the elites from both sides let them have their freedom? Is there a strong enough grassroots freedom movement with staying power against all these ruling forces from all sides?

    One of the authors you recently analyzed (van Creveld?) said he envisions a future of many smaller states, smaller separate autonomous polities, and I think you agreed with that. Wouldn't that vision correspond with the things happening in Ukraine? If the elites actually allow that for whatever reason, or the "force of history" inevitably leads to that direction then doesn't Ukraine fit into this picture? Isn't perhaps one of the first such a movements toward that ideal?

    Finally, you are Christian, right? Where do you think God fits into this whole thing? I would really love to see a post form you on this. Doesn't God guide history (albeit slowly due to our freedom and responsibility which we often screw up) toward a society of love, peace and freedom? Isn't God ultimately more powerful than the total of any scheming elite?

    1. Norbert, as always, I truly appreciate your comments.

      I will write a post (maybe more than one) addressing several of your questions / comments in the next day or two.

      I thank you for taking such an interest.

    2. Norbert, here you go:

  2. The Elite may have left it a little late. There were many in Washington's bureaucracies who got rich and powerful during the Cold War and they looking to keep that gravy train rolling. Hasn't been the first time kings have had their hands removed from power.