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Scapegoating Russia: Dangerous Bluster From the Presidential Campaign

The United States chortled with glee about Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian Su-24 on November 24 and President Obama “expressed U.S. and NATO support for Turkey’s right to defend its sovereignty.” The Pentagon likewise called it “a sovereign act of self-defense,” and its sock-puppet, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, was predictably fatuous in declaring that “we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey.”  The US-NATO double act willfully ignored the fact that even if the Russian pilot had indeed mistakenly violated Turkish airspace there was not, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, the tiniest threat to Turkey.

Even the Turks admit that the alleged incursion was “for 17 seconds from 9.24.05 local time.”

It is bizarre to the point of psychosis to suggest that this could pose a threat requiring “self-defense,” but rationality about Russia has not been in evidence in the United States in recent years, and in this context it is interesting to examine the attitudes to Russia of the rivals for the US Presidency.

***

Given his responsibilities, the President of the United States of America has a comparatively small salary of 400,000 dollars a year, but in spite of the modest recompense there are always many people eager to be elected to the Office which next falls vacant (or even more vacant) at midday on January 20, 2017.  The initial selection process will continue through 2016 with ever-increasing intensity until the Republicans and Democrats hold their Conventions (just before the Olympics) to decide who their candidates will be in the final play-off.

The Democrats won’t have too much trouble because they have only three people going forward, and their most appealing candidate, Bernie Sanders, is a democratic socialist who supports civil liberties, universal healthcare and other measures designed to benefit ordinary citizens, so he hasn’t a hope of being selected. One final nail in his coffin was his statement on 19 November that in regard to the terrorist threat “we must work to expand the coalition with Russia.”

The equally decent and principled Martin O’Malley, until recently Governor of Maryland, is against the death penalty and supports gun control, which is politically suicidal. The National Rifle Association has loads of devotees and bottomless magazines of cash and they’ll destroy O’Malley for being “un-American” because he doesn’t support Guns For Everyone. He disagrees with the “No-Fly Zone” idea in Syria because “the Russian air force is in the air space over Syria [and] this could lead to an escalation of Cold War proportions because of an accident.” He’ll get nowhere.

This leaves the Democrats with Hillary Clinton, a skillful political tap-dancer who says that “the US needs to do more to confront Russian President Putin [because of] his determined policy to sabotage American interests whenever and wherever he can.”  She is “convinced that we need a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia.”

In February 2015 Clinton met with an erratic British politician called Boris Johnson who afterwards revealed indiscreetly that “she thought the Europeans were being too wimpy [weak and cowardly] in dealing with Putin” and “her general anxiety was that Putin, if unchallenged and unchecked, would continue to expand his influence in the perimeter of what was the Soviet Union.”  Where the US has expanded its influence right up to Russia’s borders.

On October 5 Reuters reported that Clinton “said removing President Bashar al-Assad is the top priority in Syria.” Presumably she would have his removal effected in the same way as her elimination of President Gaddafi of Libya when, as she recounted, laughing, in 2011, “We came; we saw; he died.” The YouTube video of her giggling declaration is nauseating — but indicative of what the likely future president of the United States might find hilarious in the future.

If Clinton becomes President there will be further intensification of the present malevolent confrontation with Russia, and her Republican opponents appear to be right up there with her in maximum aggression mode.

There are some dozen Republican candidates, and it’s interesting to record what the main contenders have to say about Russia.

The one woman, Carly Fiorina, is blunt about Russia, saying that “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all . . .  We’ve talked way too much to him . . . What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”

Then Senator Marco Rubio declared that “I believe the world is a stronger and a better place when the United States is the strongest military power in the world . . . I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know he is a gangster.”  ABC News reportedthat his “direct fire earned him applause from the debate hall.”

Not to be outdone,  Ben Carson, a nonentity, certainly, but still a candidate, said “what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.” Utter nonsense, but it plays well in Peoria, as did his compassionate comment that camps in Jordan housing over 900,000 desperate Syrian refugees have some facilities that are “really quite nice.” What lucky people.

Ohio’s Governor John Kasich was an investment banker from 2001 until he quit when his employer, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 causing global chaos.  During a television debate on November 11 (the New York Times transcript is terrifying in what it reveals of the shallowness, casual venom, parochial bigotry and appalling ignorance of the candidates),  Kasich waxed eloquent about Russia, saying that “in the eastern part of Europe, make sure that Finland and the Baltics know that if the Russians move, we move. In Syria, yes, a no-fly zone in the north on the Turkish border, a no-fly zone on the south on the Jordanian border. Anybody flies in the first time, maybe they can fly out. They fly in there a second time, they will not fly out . . .”

Candidate Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and brother of the catastrophic George W, speaks of international affairs with familial insularity and intolerance, contending that “without American leadership every other country in the neighborhood [the Middle East] begins to change their priorities. It is tragic that you see Iraq, and other countries now talking to Russia. It wasn’t that long ago that Russia had no influence in the region at all. And, so, the United States needs to lead across the board.”

Last but most likely of the Republicans is Donald Trump, a grotesque figure of sinister comedy, but one who, in the strange tempo of our times, currently attracts most approval from Republican voters.  It is difficult to believe anything that is said by Trump, as his pronouncements swing from the seemingly sane (if mundane) to the downright lunatic, but at the moment he seems to be the most compelling Republican contender. He was reported as attacking “President Obama and Hillary Clinton for having destroyed relations with Russia and China. In contrast, he said he instinctively thought he would get along with the Russian president.” (There might be two schools of thought about that.)

***

It is likely that the either the spiteful bouffant buffoon Trump or the venomous vicious Clinton will be next President of the United States of America, but whatever happens, the world should be prepared for continuation of uncompromising venom against Russia — to the point of increasing military confrontation.

They would be wise to heed what President Putin said at the UN General Assembly in September, when he observed, without naming the perpetrators, that the US-NATO military grouping had meddled militarily around the world with disastrous consequences, because in the Middle East and surrounding regions —

aggressive foreign interference has resulted in brazen destruction of national institutions and lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.

I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.

The trouble is that every one of the likely candidates for the US Presidency believes in policies based on self-conceit, exceptionality and impunity.  There is no possibility whatever that these are going to be abandoned in continuation of the US policy of seeking world domination.  On present evidence it seems the future President of the US will continue to confront Russia aggressively.  But that President would be well-advised to have a long cool think about such a strategy, because times are changing, and the “one indispensable nation in world affairs”, as President Obama so repeatedly describes it, will have to take the views and aspirations of other nations into account.  The consequences of confrontation might well be catastrophic.

A version of this piece appeared first in Strategic Culture Foundation on November 28.

 

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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