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The Media is Turning on President Obama: Michael Goodwin, New York Post, Apr. 27, 2014— With multiple crises spiraling out of control around the world, stories about the Obama presidency are taking on the air of postmortems.
How Putin Is Reinventing Warfare: Peter Pomerantsev, Foreign Policy, May 5, 2014— The Kremlin, according to Barack Obama, is stuck in the "old ways," trapped in Cold War or even 19th century mindsets.
Russia’s Weimar Syndrome: Roger Cohen, New York Times, May 1, 2014 — Sergei Karaganov, a prominent Russian foreign policy expert at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, recently provided a useful summation of his vast country’s sense of humiliation and encirclement.
A Foreign Policy Flirting With Chaos: Richard N. Haass, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 29, 2014— American foreign policy is in troubling disarray.
A Moscow-Cairo-Jerusalem Axis?: Neville Teller, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 21, 2014
China and Russia Are Getting Closer: Nikolas K. Gvosdev, National Interest, May 20, 2014
Kerry Keeps Swinging For the Fences — and Missing: Benny Avni, New York Post, May 1, 2014
Can the West Find the Energy to Deter Russia?: Anne Applebaum, Washington Post, May 1, 2014
New York Post, Apr. 27, 2014
With multiple crises spiraling out of control around the world, stories about the Obama presidency are taking on the air of postmortems. What went wrong, who’s to blame, what next — even The New York Times is starting to recognize that Dear Leader is a global flop. “Obama Suffers Setbacks in Japan and the Mideast,” the paper declared on Friday’s front page. The double whammy of failure pushed the growing Russian menace in Europe to inside pages, but even they were chock-full of reports about utopia gone wrong. One story detailed how the White House was facing the “consequences of underestimating” North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Others recounted the continuing Syrian slaughter and the murder of three Americans in Afghanistan.
The accounts and others like them amount to an autopsy of a failed presidency, but the process won’t be complete unless it is completely honest. To meet that test, the Times, other liberal news organizations and leading Democrats, in and out of office, must come to grips with their own failures, as well. Obama had a free hand to make a mess because they gave it to him. They cheered him on, supporting him with unprecedented gobs of money and near-unanimous votes. They said “aye” to any cockamamie concept he came up with, echoed his demonization of critics and helped steamroll unpopular and unworkable ideas into reality. Some of his backers knew better, and said so privately, but publicly they were all in. Whether it was ObamaCare, his anti-Israel position or the soft-shoe shuffle around the Iranian nuke crisis, they lacked the courage to object. They said nothing as Obama went on foreign apology tours and stood silent as our allies warned of disastrous consequences. Even now, despite protests from a succession of Pentagon leaders, former Democratic defense hawks are helping Obama hollow out our military as Russia and China expand theirs and al Qaeda extends its footprint.
A king is no king without a court, and Obama has not lacked for lackeys. The system of checks and balances is written into the Constitution, but it is the everyday behavior of Americans of good will that makes the system work. That system broke down under Obama, and the blame starts with the media. By giving the president the benefit of the doubt at every turn, by making excuses to explain away fiascos, by ignoring corruption, by buying the White House line that his critics were motivated by pure politics or racism, the Times and other organizations played the role of bartender to a man on a bender. Even worse, they joined the party, forgetting the lessons of history as well as their own responsibilities to put a check on power. A purpose of a free press is to hold government accountable, but there is no fallback when the watchdog voluntarily chooses to be a lapdog.
The sycophancy was not lost on other politicians and private citizens. Taking their cue from the media, they, too, bit their tongues and went along as the president led the nation astray and misread foreign threats. From the start, support for Obama often had a cult-like atmosphere. He sensed it, began to believe it and became comfortable demanding total agreement as the price for the favor of his leadership. That he is now the imperial president he used to bemoan is no longer in dispute. The milking of perks, from golf trips to Florida to European vacations for the first lady, is shockingly vulgar, but not a peep of protest comes from his supporters. The IRS becomes a political enforcer, but that, too, is accepted because nobody will risk their access by telling Obama no. You are either with him or you are his enemy.
The evidence is everywhere that his ideas are flawed, that his view of economics, diplomacy, the military, history, science and religion are warped by his own narcissism. He doesn’t even talk a good game anymore.
Yet it remains a fool’s errand to hope he will correct his ways. He is not capable; he looks in the mirror and sees only a savior. It is equally clear that those who shielded him from facts and their own best judgment did him no favors. Out of fear and favor, they abdicated their duty to the nation, and they must share the burden of history’s verdict. After all, America’s decline happened on their watch, too.
Foreign Policy, May 5, 2014
The Kremlin, according to Barack Obama, is stuck in the "old ways," trapped in Cold War or even 19th century mindsets. But look closer at the Kremlin's actions during the crisis in Ukraine and you begin to see a very 21st century mentality, manipulating transnational financial interconnections, spinning global media, and reconfiguring geo-political alliances. Could it be that the West is the one caught up in the "old ways," while the Kremlin is the geopolitical avant-garde, informed by a dark, subversive reading of globalization?
The Kremlin's approach might be called "non-linear war," a term used in a short story written by one of Putin's closest political advisors, Vladislav Surkov, which was published under his pseudonym, Nathan Dubovitsky, just a few days before the annexation of Crimea. Surkov is credited with inventing the system of "managed democracy" that has dominated Russia in the 21st century, and his new portfolio focuses on foreign policy. This time, he sets his new story in a dystopian future, after the "fifth world war." Surkov writes: "It was the first non-linear war. In the primitive wars of the 19th and 20th centuries it was common for just two sides to fight. Two countries, two blocks of allies. Now four coalitions collided. Not two against two, or three against one. All against all."
This is a world where the old geo-political paradigms no longer hold. As the Kremlin faces down the West, it is indeed gambling that old alliances like the EU and NATO mean less in the 21st century than the new commercial ties it has established with nominally "Western" companies, such as BP, Exxon, Mercedes, and BASF. Meanwhile, many Western countries welcome corrupt financial flows from the post-Soviet space; it is part of their economic models, and not one many want disturbed. So far, the Kremlin's gamble seems to be paying off, with financial considerations helping to curb sanctions. Part of the rationale for fast-tracking Russia's inclusion into the global economy was that interconnection would be a check on aggression. But the Kremlin has figured out that this can be flipped: "A few provinces would join one side," Surkov continues, "a few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part."
We can see a similar thinking informing the Kremlin as it toys with Eastern Ukraine, using indirect intervention through local gangs, with a thorough understanding of the interests of such local power brokers such as Donetsk billionaire Rinat Akhmetov (Ukraine's richest man) or Mikhail Dobkin, the former head of the Kharkiv Regional Administration and now presidential candidate. Though these local magnates make occasional public pronouncements supporting Ukraine's territorial integrity, their previous support of Yanukovych makes them wary of the new government in Kiev. Just the right degree of separatism could help guarantee their security while ensuring that their vast financial global interests are not harmed. "Think global, act local" is a favorite cliché of corporations — it could almost be the Kremlin's motto in the Donbass.
And the Kremlin's "non-linear" sensibility is evident as it manipulates Western media and policy discourse. If in the 20th century the Kremlin could only lobby through Soviet sympathizers on the left, it now uses a contradictory kaleidoscope of messages to build alliances with quite different groups. European right-nationalists such as Hungary's Jobbik or France's Front National are seduced by the anti-EU message; the far-left are brought in by tales of fighting U.S. hegemony; U.S. religious conservatives are convinced by the Kremlin's stance against homosexuality. The result is an array of voices, all working away at Western audiences from different angles, producing a cumulative echo chamber of Kremlin support. Influencers often appear in Western media and policy circles without reference to their Kremlin connections: whether it's PR company Ketchum placing pro-Kremlin op-eds in the Huffington Post; anti-Maidan articles by British historian John Laughland in the Spectator that make no mention of how the think tank he was director of was set up in association with Kremlin-allied figures; or media appearances by influential German political consultant Alexander Rahr that fail to note his paid position as an advisor for the German energy company Wintershall, a partner of Gazprom, Moscow's massive natural gas company (Rahr denies a conflict of interest).
Combatting non-linear war requires non-linear measures. International networks of anti-corruption NGOs could help squeeze corrupt flows from Russia. At the moment, this sector is underdeveloped, underfunded, and poorly internationally coordinated: In the U.K., for example, NGOs such as Global Witness or Tax Justice rarely engage with Russian counterparts. Anti-corruption NGOs need to have the backing to put painful pressure on corrupt networks on a daily basis, naming and shaming corrupt networks and pressuring western governments to shut them down and enact their own money laundering laws. This would squeeze the Kremlin's model even in the absence of further sanctions, ultimately playing a role as important as human rights organizations did in the 70s and 80s, when groups like Amnesty and the Helsinki Committee helped change the Cold War by supporting dissidents in the Communist block and shaming their governments…
…It's also important to appreciate that the Kremlin is throwing down the gauntlet to the Western-inspired vision of globalization, to the kitsch "global village" vision on the covers of World Bank annual reports and in Microsoft advertisements. It is better to understand the Kremlin's view of globalization as a kind of "corporate raiding" — namely, the ultra-violent, post-Soviet version of corporate takeovers. "Raiding" involves buying a minority share in a company, and then using any means at your disposal (false arrests, mafia threats, kidnapping, disinformation, blackmail) to acquire control. Russian elites sometimes refer to the country as a "minority shareholder in globalization," which, given Russia's experience with capitalism, implies it is the world's great "corporate raider." Non-linear war is the means through which a geo-political raider can leverage his relative weakness. And this vision appeals to a very broad constituency across the world, to those full of resentment for the West and infused by the sense that the "global village" model is a priori rigged. For all the talk of Russia's isolation, the BRIC economies have actually been subdued in their criticism of the annexation of Crimea, with the Kremlin thanking both China and India for being understanding.
Perhaps, despite what Obama says, there is a battle of ideas going on. Not between communism and capitalism, or even conservatives and progressives, but between competing visions of globalization, between the "global village" — which feels at once nice, naff, and unreal — and "non-linear war."
It is naïve to assume the West will win with this new battle with the same formula it used in the Cold War. Back then, the West united free market economics, popular culture, and democratic politics into one package: Parliaments, investment banks, and pop music fused to defeat the politburo, planned economics, and social realism. But the new Russia (and the new China) has torn that formula apart: Russian popular culture is Westernised, and people drive BMWs, play the stock market, and listen to Taylor Swift all while cheering anti-Western rhetoric and celebrating American downfall. "The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock," said Surkov when he was one of the first Russian officials to be put on the U.S. sanctions list as "punishment" for Russia's actions in Crimea. "I don't need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing." We live in a truly non-linear age. And the future might just belong to the raiders.
New York Times, May 1, 2014
Sergei Karaganov, a prominent Russian foreign policy expert at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, recently provided a useful summation of his vast country’s sense of humiliation and encirclement. Because explosions of nationalist fervor like the one fostered by Vladimir Putin are dangerous and slow to abate, it is worth quoting this analysis at some length. “The rupture is due to the West’s refusal to end the Cold War de facto or de jure in the quarter-century since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Karaganov wrote in the daily Izvestia. “In that time, the West has consistently sought to expand its zone of military, economic and political influence through NATO and the E.U. Russian interests and objections were flatly ignored. Russia was treated like a defeated power, though we did not see ourselves as defeated. A softer version of the Treaty of Versailles was imposed on the country. There was no outright annexation of territory or formal reparations like Germany faced after World War I, but Russia was told in no uncertain terms that it would play a modest role in the world. This policy was bound to engender a form of Weimar syndrome in a great nation whose dignity and interests had been trampled.”
The country being discussed here, it should be recalled, is the world’s largest, a Eurasian power whose Communist empire extended as far west as Berlin for more than four decades after World War II, subjecting peoples to the mind-numbing, soul-poisoning oppression of totalitarian rule under regimes that coerced and confined. The Gulag-littered Soviet imperium was a crushing universe, a “conspiracy of silence,” in the poet Czeslaw Milosz’s words, where “one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” Russia is also a nation that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was ushered by the West into the group of leading industrialized countries known as the G-8 (before its recent Crimea-related exclusion). It has been the object of outreach from Washington and NATO since 1991, including initiatives that resulted in Russia joining the Partnership for Peace program and the NATO-Russia council. (NATO-Russian cooperation has been suspended since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea; yes, there was cooperation to suspend.)
What the United States and Europe were not prepared to do, however, was to eviscerate the Atlantic alliance in the name of some dreamy “Union of Europe” — Karaganov’s phrase — that would bring about “the merger of European soft power and technology with Russia’s resources, political will and hard power.” If this for Moscow was what was meant by the end of the Cold War, it was a nonstarter and still is. Nor, rightly, was the West prepared to turn its back on the desire of former Soviet vassal states from Poland to Estonia to secure the guarantee against renewed subjugation and the prospects of new prosperity that, in their eyes, only membership in the European Union and NATO afforded. Abuse breeds caution. These nations, long blotted out, wanted their security, freedom and the rule of law underwritten in steel.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing rampage in eastern Ukraine by the Russian fifth columnists of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” demonstrate the wisdom of their choice. The expansion through NATO and the E.U. of a free Europe was the greatest American and Western diplomatic achievement since 1989. What now? A sense of national humiliation, whether based in fact or not, is a tremendous catalyst for violence. It was in Weimar Germany, where the reparations and concessions stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 created an explosive mood. It was in Serbia at the time of the break-up in 1991 of Yugoslavia, a country Belgrade always regarded as a Serbian extension of itself. The blinding fever drummed up by Slobodan Milosevic was based in a supposed need to reassert Serbian greatness; the means then was the ravages of his fifth columnists in Bosnia. That delirium took a decade to dim. It is unlikely that the Russian version will take less. Putin’s nationalist upsurge is the mask for all sorts of problems — demographic decline, corruption, a coopted judiciary, a cowed press, an oligarchic resource-based economy that has failed to diversify — but no less virulent for that.
In the face of this assertive Russia, nothing would be more dangerous than American weakness. So when President Obama, in response to a recent question about whether his declaration that the United States would protect the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea risked drawing another “red line,” gave an evasive answer including the hypothesis that America might not want to “engage militarily,” he did something profoundly dangerous. In Asia, as in the Baltic, the Article 5 commitment to a joint military response to any attack on an ally is critical. The U.S. treaties must be words of truth that sound “like a pistol shot,” or violent mayhem could spread well beyond East Ukraine.
Richard N. Haass
Wall Street Journal, Apr. 29, 2014
American foreign policy is in troubling disarray. The result is unwelcome news for the world, which largely depends upon the United States to promote order in the absence of any other country able and willing to do so. And it is bad for the U.S., which cannot insulate itself from the world. The concept that should inform American foreign policy is one that the Obama administration proposed in its first term: the pivot or rebalancing toward Asia, with decreasing emphasis on the Middle East. What has been missing is the commitment and discipline to implement this change in policy. President Obama's four-country Asian tour in recent days was a start, but it hardly made up for years of paying little heed to his own professed foreign-policy goals.
This judgment may appear odd—at first glance the Obama administration does seem to have been moving away from the Middle East. U.S. combat forces are no longer in Iraq, and the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan (now below 40,000) will soon be 10,000 or fewer. Yet the administration continues to articulate ambitious political goals in the region. The default U.S. policy option in the Middle East seems to be regime change, consisting of repeated calls for authoritarian leaders to leave power. First it was Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, then Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, followed by Bashar Assad in Syria. Yet history shows that ousting leaders can be difficult, and even when it is not, it can be extremely hard to bring about a stable, alternative authority that is better for American preferences. The result is that the U.S. often finds itself with an uncomfortable choice: Either it must back off its declared goals, which makes America look weak and encourages widespread defiance, or it has to make good on its aims, which requires enormous investments in blood, treasure and time.
The Obama administration has largely opted for the former, i.e., feckless approach. The most egregious case is Syria, where the president and others declared that "Assad must go" only to do little to bring about his departure. Military support of opposition elements judged to be acceptable has been minimal. Worse, President Obama avoided using force in the wake of clear chemical-weapons use by the Syrian government, a decision that raised doubts far and wide about American dependability and damaged what little confidence and potential the non-jihadist opposition possessed. It is only a matter of time before the U.S. will likely have to swallow the bitter pill of tolerating Assad while supporting acceptable opposition elements against the jihadists. Meanwhile, large areas of Libya are increasingly out of government control and under the authority of militias and terrorists. Egypt is polarized and characterized by mounting violence. Much the same is true in Iraq, now the second-most-turbulent country in the region, where the U.S. finds itself with little influence despite a costly decade of occupation. Terrorists now have more of a foothold in the region than ever before…
None of this should be read as a call for the U.S. to do more to oust regimes, much less occupy countries in the name of nation-building. There is a good deal of evidence, including Chile, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea, that gradual and peaceful reform of authoritarian systems is less expensive by every measure and more likely to result in an open society, as well as less likely to result in disruption and death. The Obama administration's extraordinary commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also difficult to justify. Even before the recent breakdown in talks, the dispute didn't appear ripe for resolution. And it must be acknowledged that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute no longer occupies center stage in the Middle East. The emergence of a separate Palestinian state wouldn't affect the troubling events in Syria, Egypt or Iraq…
The U.S. must also increase its involvement with Europe. American inattention, combined with Ukraine's own political dysfunction and the European Union's bungling, set the stage for Russian expansion into Crimea. Shaping Russian behavior will require targeted sanctions, greater allocation of economic resources to Ukraine, a willingness to export meaningful amounts of oil and natural gas, and a renewed commitment to NATO's military readiness. The administration also needs to focus on the strength and resilience of the U.S. economy and society. This is not an alternative to national security but a central part of it…The challenge for the Obama administration is not just to ensure American strength and continued internationalism in the face of growing isolationist sentiment. It is also a case of sending the right message to others. We are witnessing an accelerated movement toward a post-American world where governments make decisions and take actions with reduced regard for U.S. preferences. Such a world promises to be even messier, and less palatable for U.S. interests, than it is today.
A Moscow-Cairo-Jerusalem Axis?: Neville Teller, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 21, 2014 —Being played out on the world stage, in this early part of 2014, is what might superficially be taken as a repeat of the communism versus capitalism Cold War of the 20th century.
China and Russia Are Getting Closer: Nikolas K. Gvosdev, National Interest, May 20, 2014—Whenever Russian president Vladimir Putin meets with his Chinese counterparts, there is always dramatic talk about the intensifying special relationship between the two countries and the enunciation of bold goals to double trade and further expand security, political and diplomatic ties.
Kerry Keeps Swinging For the Fences — and Missing: Benny Avni, New York Post, May 1, 2014—President Obama used a baseball metaphor this week to explain his foreign-policy doctrine: “It avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles. Every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.”
Can the West Find the Energy to Deter Russia?: Anne Applebaum, Washington Post, May 1, 2014—Seven Russians were added this week to the U.S. sanctions list , along with 17 Russian companies.
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