Creating New Enemies

American foreign policy produces dangerous alliances

It should come as no surprise that many observers, from various political perspectives, are beginning to note that there is something seriously disconnected in the fumbling foreign policy of the United States. The evacuation failure in Afghanistan shattered the already waning self-confidence of the American political elite and the continuing on-again off-again negotiations that were by design intended to go nowhere with Iran and Russia provide no evidence that anyone in the White House is really focused on protecting American interests. Now we have an actual shooting war in Ukraine as a result, a conflict that might easily escalate if Washington continues to send the wrong signals to Moscow.

To cite only one example of how outside influences distort policy, in a phone call on February 9th, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett advised President Joe Biden not to enter into any non-proliferation agreement with Iran. Biden was non-committal even though it is an actual American interest to come to an agreement, but instead he indicated that as far as the US is concerned, Israel could exercise “freedom of action” when dealing with the Iranians. With that concession has ended in all probability the only possible diplomatic success that the Administration might have been able to point to.

The Biden Administration’s by default global security policy is currently reduced to what some critics have described as “encirclement and containment.” That is why an overstretched US military is being tasked with creating ever more bases worldwide in an effort to counter perceived “enemies” who often are only exercising their own national sovereignty and right to security within their own zones of influence. Ironically, when nations balk at submitting to Washington’s control, they are frequently described as “aggressors” and “anti-democratic,” the language that has most particularly been used relating to Russia. The Biden policy, such as it actually exists, appears to be a throwback to the playing field in 1991-2 when the Soviet empire collapsed. It is all about maintaining the old American dream of complete global dominance coupled with liberal interventionism, but this time around the US lacks both the resources and the national will to continue in the effort. Hopefully the White House will understand that to do nothing is better than to make empty threats.

Meanwhile, as the situation continues to erode, it is becoming more and more obvious that the twin crises that have been developing over Ukraine and Taiwan are “Made in Washington” and are somewhat inexplicable as the US does not have a compelling national interest that would justify threats to “leave on the table” military options as a possible response. The Administration has yet again responded to Russian moves by initiating devastating sanctions. But Russia also has unconventional weapons in its arsenal. It can, for starters, shift focus away from Ukraine by intervening much more actively in support of Syria and Iran in the Middle East, disrupting feeble American attempts to manage that region to benefit Israel.

According to economists, Russia has also been effectively sanction-proofing its economy and is capable of selective reverse-sanctioning of countries that support an American initiative with any enthusiasm. Such a response would likely hurt the Europeans much more than it would damage the leadership in the Kremlin. Barring Russian gas from Europe by shutting down Nord Stream 2 would, for example, permit increased sales to China and elsewhere in Asia and would inflict more pain on the Europeans than on Moscow. Shipping US supplied liquid gas to Europe would, for example, cost more than twice the going rate being offered by the Kremlin and would also be less reliable. The European NATO members are clearly nervous and not fully behind the US agenda on Ukraine, largely because there is the legitimate concern that any and possibly all options being considered by Washington could easily produce missteps that would escalate into a nuclear exchange that would be catastrophic for all parties involved.

Apart from the real immediate danger to be derived from the fighting currently taking place in Ukraine, the real long-term damage is strategic. The Joe Biden Administration has adroitly maneuvered itself into a corner while America’s two principal adversaries Russia and China have drawn closer together to form something like a defensive as well as economic relationship that will be dedicated to reducing and eventually eliminating Washington’s assumed role as the global hegemon and rules enforcer.

In a recent article in the New Yorker foreign affairs commentator Robin Wright, who might reasonably described as a “hawk,” declares the new development to be “Russia and China Unveil[ing] a Pact Against America and the West.” And she is not alone in ringing the alarm bell, with former Donald Trump National Security Council (NSC) Russia watcher Anita Hill warning that the Kremlin’s intention is to force the United States out of Europe while former NSC Ukrainian expert Alexander Vindman is advising that military force be used to deter Russia now before it is too late.

Wright provides the most serious analysis of the new developments. She argues that “Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the two most powerful autocrats, challenge the current political and military order.” She describes how, in a meeting between the two leaders before the Beijing Olympics, they cited an “agreement that also challenges the United States as a global power, NATO as a cornerstone of international security, and liberal democracy as a model for the world.” They pledged that there would be “No ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation” and a written statement that was subsequently produced declared that “Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions, intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose color revolutions, and will increase cooperation.” Wright notes that there is considerable strength behind the agreement, “As two nuclear-armed countries that span Europe and Asia, the more muscular alignment between Russia and China could be a game changer militarily and diplomatically.” One might add that China now has the world’s largest economy and Russia has a highly developed military deploying new hypersonic missiles that would give it the advantage in any conflict with NATO and the US. Both Russia and China, if attacked, would also benefit because they would be fighting close to their bases on interior lines.

And, of course, not everyone agrees that nudging the United States out of its self-proclaimed hegemonic role would be a bad thing. Former British diplomat Alastair Crooke argues that there will be perpetual state of crisis in the international order until a new system emerges from the status quo that ended the Cold War, and it would be minus the United States as the semi-official transnational rules maker and arbiter. He observes that “The crux of Russia’s complaints about its eroding security have little to do with Ukraine per se but are rooted in the Washington hawks’ obsession with Russia, and their desire to cut Putin (and Russia) down to size – an aim which has been the hallmark of US policy since the Yeltsin years. The Victoria Nuland clique could never accept Russia rising to become a significant power in Europe – possibly eclipsing the US control over Europe.”

What is happening in Europe and Asia should all come down to a very simple realization about the limits of power: America has no business in risking a nuclear war with Russia over Ukraine or with China over Taiwan. The United States has been fighting much of the world for over two decades, impoverishing itself and killing millions in avoidable wars starting with Iraq and Afghanistan. The US government is cynically exploiting memories of old Cold War enemy Russia to create a false narrative that goes something like this: “If we don’t stop them over there, they will be in New Jersey next week.” It is all nonsense. And besides, who made the US the sole arbiter of international relations? It is past time Americans started asking what kind of international order is it that lets the United States determine what other nations can and cannot do.

Worst of all, the bloodshed in Ukraine has all been unnecessary. A little real diplomacy with honest negotiators weighing up real interests could easily have come to acceptable solutions for all parties involved. It is indeed ironic that the burning desire to go to war with Russia demonstrated in the New York Times and Washington Post as well as on Capitol Hill has in fact created a real formidable enemy, tying Russia and China together in an alliance due to their frustration at dealing with a Biden Administration that never seems to know what it is doing or where it wants to go.

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