zaterdag 23 mei 2015

Neoliberal Democracy 12

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks about national security at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in this file photo from May 21, 2009. Cheney, 69, was hospitalized in George Washington Hospital on February 22, 2010 after experienci
No kidding.
In the much-needed pile-on lambasting the most recent round of Iraq War whitewashing, Ex-CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell appeared on the TV to say that yes, the Bush administration lied to the public about the intelligence presented to them. He was the one briefing the White House on that intelligence at the time, and so he is among the most very qualified people on earth to make that assertion. But he didn't pipe up with this at the time, you must understand, because that wasn't his job.
[CHRIS MATTHEWS]: You're the briefer for the president on intelligence, you're the top person to go in and tell him what's going on. You see Cheney make this charge he's got a nuclear bomb and then they make subsequent charges he knew how to deliver it…and nobody raised their hand and said, "No that's not what we told him." [...]
MORELL: As the briefer, my job is to carry CIA's best information and best analysis to the president of the United States and make sure he understands it. My job is to not watch what they're saying on TV.
Given the magnitude of death and destruction unleashed as a result of those misrepresentations, you have to admire the man's devotion to his own job security. A true hero.
MATTHEWS: So you're briefing the president on the reasons for war, they're selling the war, using your stuff, saying you made that case when you didn't. So they're using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted. [...]
MORELL: On some aspects. On some aspects.
Add this to the pile, then. There were many, many Americans that knew at the time that the intelligence being presented to justify the Iraq War was weak or simply fraudulent; the case being made against the war at the time relied on U.N. weapons inspectors, nuclear experts, foreign policy experts and others who regularly piped up to say that assertions about "aluminum tubes" or "yellowcake uranium" or an "Al-Qaeda connection" were simply false. The intelligence community knew it as well, which is why the neoconservative team of Cheney, Rumsfeld and so on quickly began to rely on a separate, less rigorous intelligence pipeline of their own design.
The question of whether or not a candidate would go to war knowing what we know now is moot; nearly all of these people supported the war at the time, because it simply would not do to be seen as weak on terror, whether that terror was real or invented, and so we have a very good idea whether they would have supported the war using known-dubious claims unsupported by intelligence. Because they did that thing.
The more salient question (below the fold):
... would be why each candidate chose to put his faith in the Bush Administration's "interpretation" of that intelligence rather than the many experts loudly disputing those claims. The media's own demand for war no doubt cowed many of them, as well as the consistent post-9/11 branding of dissenters as anything from naive peaceniks to almost-traitors; opposition to the war became rarer the higher up in American circles of power you went, whether in political life or among the pundit class. The political punditry has all but wiped it from their memory, but most of the rest of us remember that speaking out against the notion of an Iraq War or against any of the individual "intelligence" claims being made by the Bush administration could be a career-ending move; both the administration and prominent pro-war pundits were gleeful in their opinion-page lynchings of experts who spoke out. We were in a new age of terrorism, we were told. The old rules of evidence were from "pre-9/11" times. If you wanted to debate whether each of the various claims about Iraq was actually true, well then why don't you move to France with the rest of the cowards.
Nearly all of the current presidential candidates (those that were even around then, that is) handled themselves abysmally, in those times. They allowed themselves to be pushed into war, whether it was (Clinton) due to the apparent presumption that opposing it would be politically devastating or (Jeb Bush) because they were among the staunch believers in the notion of remaking the Middle East through a program of targeted violence. The question to be asked now is what they have learned, and what evidence they can present to us that they have learned. America will no doubt at some future point be the victim of another terrorist attack perpetrated by some violent fringe group in some barely governed region of the globe; will we then go to war in Iran, because they were on our military radar anyway? Will the dissenters again be branded as anti-American for speaking up? Will men and women lose their careers again, even as the planners and strategists and advocates for the expensive, violent, falsely premised, incompetently executed preemptive war sail through unscathed, blaming their opponents for each of the things that went wrong, and piping up with near-identical plans for near-identical interventions supported with near-identical fearmongering in the very same newspapers and for the very same think tanks every last week for a decade afterward?
There is more to answer for than the simplistic question of whether a candidate would support the stupid and catastrophic war given the benefit of hindsight. The embrace of the very same strategists and intelligence-pushers as continued "experts" in the field is, for God's sake, disqualifying—and that should be obvious, and that it is not speaks to the simple cravenness of a media still obsessively convinced that the redemption of those experts, and of their own humiliated column-spaces, is just around the next corner.
Equally important, though, is that the treatment of fellow Americans who did speak up against the fraudulent intelligence was unconscionable. There has been no reckoning for that. There has been no apology from any of the political stalwarts whose sole response to opposition voices was to demonize them. That is considerably more pressing than knowing what you know now. You were not misled by the intelligence, you chose to believe it over all other available evidence, and by dismissing all the other now-vindicated voices.

Trade is War

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An Exclusive Excerpt From ‘Trade Is War’ 

Posted on May 22, 2015

OR Books
Below is an exclusive excerpt from ‘Trade Is War: The West’s War Against the World’ by Yash Tandon (OR Books, 2015).
Truthdig readers receive a 20 percent if they enter the code TRUTHDIG20 at checkout. Click here to buy.
In the book, Tandon—a Ugandan expert on international relations, politics and economics—argues that the “soft power” exerted by international powers through economic channels is anything but soft—and that free trade (or the refusal to adopt free trade policies) leads to physical violence, especially for poorer countries. To make his case, Tandon draws on both his extensive understanding of the Global South and his hands-on experience advising African leaders on trade agreements.

Here, Tandon describes how nongovernmental organizations and big agricultural corporations team up to override local agricultural custom, often at the expense of farmers:

A Hybrid Seed is Technology

There is one thing about seeds that is not so easy to grasp: a hybrid seed is technology.
I never fully understood this until I was doing research on maize in the Moshi-Arusha region whilst teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam in the 1970s. In 1975 Tanzania faced serious food shortages. Some observers blamed Nyerere’s forced villagization program for the food shortages. But the experts I consulted during my research told me that there were two main reasons: one was the severe drought during the 1973–75 seasons, and the second was that Tanzania was using low-yielding local seeds. Until then most farmers used seeds saved from the previous year’s harvest, but some middle-sized farms also used the improved open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) that were locally developed. They said that Tanzania needed to shift from local maize to hybrids.
Some fifteen years later, in 1990, I visited the region. Most small farmers still used their local varieties. They could not afford to buy the hybrids. Some also used the hybrid CG4141 seeds. After market liberalization, foreign companies had come in to market their seeds. CG4141, marketed by Cargill (a global conglomerate), competed aggressively with the locally bred cultivars multiplied and sold by Tanseed (Tanzania Seed Company). CG4141 seed is ‘improved’ technology. I was told that the famers preferred CG4141 because of its higher yield, except that it was expensive, needed more water and fertilizers, and did not store as well as their old seeds. Also, the ugali  (pounded maize cooked into dough) made from it was not as sweet as the old maize. But Tanseed did not have the financial muscle of Cargill. Cargill was winning, but the farmers were going into debt. CG4141 had embedded intellectual property rights owned by Cargill. Cargill extracted hefty royalties for the use of its seeds.

Traditional Knowledge: is it Superior to Modern Knowledge? 

I also visited two villages in southwestern Tanzania—Ukwile and Msia. At both villages people were engaged in Low External Input Agriculture (LEIA)—agricultural practices aimed at maximizing the use of local knowledge and resources, and minimizing the use of external inputs. People were experimenting with the use of utupa (Trifosea Vogelli)—a local tree known to the people as a pesticide for controlling pests in maize production and storage. People in the area have traditionally used leaves from this tree and made them into a liquid solution for application to the crops. The people were experimenting with converting the leaves into a powder form, since it is easier to store the pesticides in dust form. They also planted acacia albida (a local tree) and sun hemp to fix nitrogen in the soil, and they planted indigenous varieties of trees and bushes (e.g. nzigati). The traditional knowledge of these was dying out.

Local nganga67 [See footnotes at end] and older people were consulted to identify these trees, and knowledge was resurrected for growing and duplicating these indigenous varieties. I attended one of their workshops where the nganga were telling the poor peasants to value their traditional knowledge. The following is an account from my notes taken at the workshop. ‘Agriculture,’ the nganga argued, ‘is not just about obtaining high yields. It is also about conserving the soil. Soil consists of two distinct layers: topsoil humus that supports microbes and higher plant and animal life, and a surface layer of almost lifeless bedrock.’ The peasants nodded in agreement, they knew all this already. ‘But what is wrong with applying fertilizers to the soil?’ they asked. ‘Fertilizers,’ the nganga explained, ‘cause microbes to grow. These microbes feed on humus, breaking it down faster than otherwise, thus enabling the crops to grow faster also.’ A villager got up and asked, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ The nganga explains, ‘With no humus to hold the soil, it gets washed away, and you have to use more and more fertilizers to give the soil artificial nutrients, and the cycle continues. The energy cost of a unit of food thus goes up. Yes, you get more yields per acre of land, but more and more of it goes to the companies to pay for the fertilizers. So you may grow more and earn less. You are now working for the corporations. That is the immediate effect. But the more important long-term effect is that you have lost control over your soil. The land may belong to you, but that soil is no longer yours.’ I listened in wonderment at the knowledge of the nganga. 
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Countering US-NATO in the Black Sea and Beyond

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A previous article entitled Battlefield: Black Sea examined the development of US and NATO military deployment in the Black Sea region. This article focuses on the ways in which Russia is moving to counter what it perceives as an aggressive US-NATO strategy.
Russia’s Counterstrategy
After the US-backed coup in Ukraine, the people of Crimea voted for reunification with Russia. While this was undoubtedly a politically and economically motivated move to secure their own safety and future amid the entirely predictable collapse of Ukraine, it would not have been possible without a clear military and strategic (and of course political and diplomatic) benefit for Russia. That such a benefit existed was plainly obvious. For Moscow, Crimea is more than a historic territory of Russia; it is a strategically vital region for Russia’s navy and military generally.
The security and integrity of the Russian Black Sea fleet, based in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula for more than two centuries, was of primary importance to Moscow. As such, since the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation, and the chaos throughout Ukraine, the Kremlin has moved quickly to modernize and bolster its naval assets in the Black Sea. While this was necessary by any measure, the move was also to preempt any military escalation by US-NATO; Washington and Brussels have moved ahead with their military buildup regardless.
Within months of the Crimea referendum, Russia announced a massive upgrade of the Black Sea fleet, in order to make it, in the words of Russian military officials, “modern” and “self-sufficient.” As Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Viktor Chirkov explained“The Black Sea Fleet must have a full complement of naval vessels to be capable of performing all assigned missions…This is not a provocative military buildup. This is something the Black Sea Fleet urgently needs as it has not been receiving new vessels for many years.” As part of this modernization and upgrade, the fleet will receive 30 new ships by the end of the decade, including a full complement of modern warships, submarines, and auxiliary vessels. Additionally, Moscow intends for the fleet to be self-sufficient, meaning that it will expand bases, house troops year-round, and generally be able to support itself in Crimea without the need for special assistance from Moscow.
But Russia of course recognizes that the growing political conflict with the West, with all the attendant military and strategic implications, requires partners and allies. With that in mind, Moscow has worked diligently to foster military cooperation with China generally, and in the Black Sea specifically.
Chinese Allies, Chinese Partners
Earlier this year, Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on a preliminary military deal worth upwards of $3.5 billion. According to Chinese media reports, the agreement would see Russia providing fighter jets, submarines, and other advanced military technology and hardware. This would mark a major turning point in military cooperation between the two countries which has had a rocky recent history. Of course, it is a mutually beneficial cooperation as Russia gains a valuable political and military partner in its conflict with the West, while China gains access to critical military hardware in its escalating conflict with Japan and in the South China Sea.
But it’s much more than just military hardware contracts between the two countries. Russia and China, under the auspices of the Shanghai cooperation Organization (SCO) have engaged in a growing number of joint military exercises. In 2014, SCO states participated in the largest ever joint operations between the two countries. As Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigustated:
We have vast potential of cooperation in the defense sphere, and the Russian side is ready to develop it is a wide range of areas… amid a highly volatile world situation, it becomes particularly important to strengthen reliable good-neighbourly relations between our countries…This is not only an important factor for security of states but also a contribution to peace and stability on the Eurasian continent and beyond… regular private meetings between the leaders of Russia and China give a powerful impetus to development of bilateral partnership.
It is clear that both Russia and China understand the potential and necessity of close military interactions between the two countries. And right now, with US-NATO expanding its presence in the Black Sea, Moscow and Beijing have decided to flex their muscles.
While US military forces deploy in Romania, Chinese warships have made an unprecedented move, entering the Black Sea to participate in the Joint Sea 2015 naval exercises with their Russian counterparts. Beijing’s Defense Ministry noted that, “The purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the friendly exchanges between the two sides … and to improve the capability of the two navies to deal with maritime threats,” adding that “this joint exercise is not targeting any third party and is not related to regional security.” While the diplomatic language is meant to soothe relations with Washington, the regional dimension of these exercises is certainly not lost on US military and strategic planners.
The Long View on Russia-China Relations
But while joint military training and exercises may indicate a growing partnership, they alone do not constitute a military alliance. Indeed, Russia and China have yet to formally declare any such overt alliance, though one could be forgiven for presuming a de facto one. However, the transfer of advanced – and militarily sensitive – defense technology is a concrete indicator of an inchoate alliance between the two powers.
In April 2015, it was reported that Beijing would be the first buyer for Russia’s advanced missile defense system known as S-400. Anatoly Isaykin, CEO of Russia’s state-owned military technologies exporter Rosoboronexport, was quoted as saying “I will not disclose the details of the contract, but yes, China has indeed become the first buyer of this sophisticated Russian air defense system… It underlines once again the strategic level of our relations… China will be the first customer.
This deal is militarily significant because of the transfer of advanced missile defense technologies that can provide Beijing with a measure of security from a host of threats, including those stemming from China’s ongoing conflict with Japan over disputed islands, as well as from the US and its aggressive “Asia Pivot” strategy in the South China Sea, and throughout the Asia-Pacific region. However, the agreement between Russia and China is also critical for symbolic reasons. That Moscow decided to provide these advanced systems to China before any other country, and that they would do so at such a critical moment for both countries, indicates that while a formal alliance has yet to be announced, we are witnessing one emerging in all but name. In an unprecedented move unthinkable just a few years ago, Chinese troops marched through Red Square during the ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet and allied victory over fascism, further proving the symbolic connection between the two countries.
The international security dimension is also critical to understanding the importance of the recent deals. The S-400, which is considered capable of matching up against any aggressive missile system employed by the US and NATO, symbolizes a growing, though not yet achieved, military parity between the US-NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Although Washington still postures as if it maintains full spectrum dominance globally, the reality, painful though it may be for many strategic and military planners in the West, is that US-NATO simply does not control Asia or Eastern Europe. Looking at a map, it becomes clear that the total space militarily under the thumb of the US is shrinking, while Russia, China, and their allies are increasingly becoming militarily independent and capable of defense. This sea change in the global chessboard will have implications for decades to come.
It is crystal clear that the burgeoning alliance between Russia and China will have implications throughout the world, from the South China Sea to the Atlantic, changing the strategic calculus throughout all of Eurasia; essentially much of the globe. But while direct alliance is still not yet fully realized, its broad contours can be seen in the Black Sea, today one of the hot spots of the East-West conflict. The US-NATO presence in the Black Sea and the littoral countries is a clear indicator of the importance Washington and Brussels attach to this area along the southern border of Russia. Conversely, Russia has made countermoves to both show strength and to increase its military readiness in the face of the West’s provocative moves in Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.
While the chances of a military conflict remain low, even the potential raises terrifying possibilities. A nuclear power like Russia that, despite its military might and technical expertise, is still far behind the US with its robust military-industrial complex which never had to go through the dismantling that Russia’s did in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. As such, Russia would be heavily reliant on nuclear deterrence, thereby creating the potential for an apocalyptic confrontation. Such a doomsday scenario, though unlikely, should give everyone pause.
In the interest of peace, the US and its allies, were they interested in stability rather than expanding their own hegemony, would do well to respect Russia’s sphere of influence and do everything to defuse the situation. However, for the West, war is good for business. And with the growing tensions with Russia, especially in the Black Sea, business is most certainly booming.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Fascist Democracy

Het fascisme is te herkennen aan de techniek waarmee het met politiek omgaat. Het is niet zozeer een specifiek gedachtegoed. Enkele aspecten van de fascistische techniek zijn: populisme om de massa te beheersen, een charismatisch leider, een beweging die op zich niet democratisch georganiseerd is en inspeelt op gevoelens van onrust, wrok, rancune en angst. 
Dit is geen vergelijking met de Tweede Wereldoorlog, het is juist een vergelijking met hoe het fascisme begonnen is.
Het hedendaags fascisme is een gevolg van:
  • Politici die hun eigen gedachtegoed verloochenen, zoals Rutte en Opstelten doen als zij jihadstrijders de dood toewensen. De hoogste bestuurder van het land en de minister van Veiligheid en Justitie vinden dat jihadisten beter kunnen sneuvelen dan achter tralies belanden, zoals in een gewone rechtsstaat het geval hoort te zijn.
  • Er zijn zes bankiers van ABN Amro, geleid door oud-VVD-minister van financiën Zalm, over de schreef gegaan in Dubai. De pseudo-ambtenaren van de staatsbank zijn mogelijk betrokken bij witwassen en terrorismefinanciering.
  • Topbankiers bezorgden ons eerst een systeemcrisis die alleen al bij staatsbank ABN Amro 28 miljard euro aan gemeenschapsgeld heeft gekost. Ze kleden ons schaamteloos uit met te hoge hypotheektarieven en gaan gewoon door met hun oude gedrag van ikke, ikke en de rest kan stikke. De graaicultuur binnen de regeringspartij en in de financiële wereld in het algemeen die de maatschappij nog steeds vergiftigd met het idee dat veel geld verdienen het allerbelangrijkste in het leven is en ondanks de crisis exorbitant hoge bonussen betaald aan mensen die producten verkopen die niet deugen. Het vaste salaris van de ABN Amro bestuurders steeg in 2014 met bijna 17 procent naar 707.500 euro.
  • Een openbaar ministerie dat een crimineel 4,7 miljoen euro cadeau doet om een grotere crimineel te pakken gedraagt zich als justitie in een ordinaire bananenrepubliek. Fred Teeven vindt dergelijk handjeklap met criminelen ‘volledig juist en terecht’, hoewel de deal het daglicht niet kan velen.
  • En de massamedia die vermaakt in plaats van gedegen informatie te verschaffen en liever de buikspreker ván dan een kritische spiegel vóór het volk is.
Oud-VVD’er Wilders bepaalt inmiddels de volledige politieke agenda en ondertussen worden de echte problemen, een economische en ecologische crisis niet aangepakt. Het financieel uitknijpen van de burger is een regelrechte aanslag op de democratie.

Geld is macht. Macht leidt per definitie tot onderdrukking en uitbuiting

Wanneer de rijken de armen beroven heet het ‘zakendoen’. Als de armen terugvechten dan heeft men het over ‘rellen’ en ‘geweld’.

MH 17 Mystery 57

MH17 Crash Milked to Demonize Russia  Dutch Blogger
Dutch blogger Max van der Werff explained to Sputnik why he decided to carry out his own investigation into the origin of two controversial photos which circulated on social networks shortly after the MH17 crash, purporting to show a trail of smoke in the sky from a missile launcher, and what his inquiry uncovered.

Unlike the majority of people who have either accepted or rejected the authenticity of the two photos that were published online, Dutch blogger Max van der Werff made it all the way to Donbass to see for himself where the photos were allegedly taken.
“Reading "The Grand Chessboard" by Brzezinski it becomes clear why, for the USA, Ukraine is important as a geological hotspot to contain Russia,” he told Sputnik.
“On July 17, a few hours after the MH17 crash, it was clear to me this tragedy would be abused and milked over and over again to demonize Russia and its president in particular,” he added. 
Lees Verder:

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Ukraine 154

John Kerry admits defeat: The Ukraine story the media won’t tell, and why U.S. retreat is a good thing 

The U.S. seems to admit it overplayed its hand over Ukraine. Caving to reality is actually the best possible policy 

John Kerry admits defeat: The Ukraine story the media won't tell, and why U.S. retreat is a good thingU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry puts in an ear piece for translation during a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Thursday, March 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Kerry sought Thursday to ease Gulf Arab concerns about an emerging nuclear deal with Iran and explore ways to calm instability in Yemen and other troubled nations in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)(Credit: AP)
It is just as well Secretary of State John Kerry’s momentous meetings with Russian leaders last week took place in Sochi, the Black Sea resort where President Putin keeps a holiday home. When you have to acknowledge that two years’ worth of pointless hostility in the bilateral relationship has proven none other than pointless, it is best to do so in a far-away place.
Arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon, Kerry spent three hours with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s very competent foreign minister, and then four with Putin. After struggling with the math, these look to me like the most significant seven hours the former senator will spend as this nation’s face abroad.
Who cannot be surprised that the Obama administration, having turned the Ukraine question into the most dangerous showdown since the Cold War’s worst, now declares cordiality, cooperation and common goals the heart of the matter?
The question is not quite as simple as one may think.
On the one hand, the policy cliques’ long swoon into demonization has been scandalously juvenile, and there has been no sign until now of sense to come. Grown men and women advancing the Putin-is-Hitler bit with straight faces. Getting the Poles, paranoids for understandable reasons on all questions to with Russia, to stage ostentatious displays of teenagers in after-school military exercises. American soldiers in those silly berets they affect drilling Ukrainian Beetle Baileys in “war-making functions,” as the officer in charge put it.
When the last of these theatrics got under way in mid-April, it was time for paying-attention people to sit up. As noted in this space, it seemed to indicate that we Americans were prepared to go to war with another nuclear power to rip Ukraine from its past and replant it in the neoliberals’ hothouse of client states—doomed to weakness precisely because corrupt leaders were enticed with baubles to sever their people from history.
On the other hand, it took no genius to see what would eventually come. This column predicted long back—within weeks of the American-cultivated coup that deposed President Yanukovych in February of last year—that the Obama administration would one day be forced to retreat before it all came to resolution.
It was hard then to see how anyone could anticipate any other outcome, and so it has remained. You cannot turn basic miscalculation, indifference to history and diplomatic insensitivity into a winning hand. You turn it into an overplayed hand. And that is what sent Kerry to Sochi last week.
Surprise and no surprise, then.
What does the Sochi visit make Kerry? Is he Neville Chamberlain just back from Munich? The appeasement paranoids are not in evidence yet, which is curious. But the question is interesting nonetheless.
“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s,” Hillary Clinton said of Putin’s Ukraine policy a month after the Yanukovych coup. Given the corner Clinton has painted herself into, can you wait to hear how she fields questions about Kerry’s new démarche? To hear her explain how she would, if elected, address Putin? I have trouble keeping my seat.
Emphatically, let us forget Clinton’s problems and dismiss any argument that Kerry is an appeaser before one is even made. There is no question of appeasement—a loaded word implying a false equivalence. Kerry is caving to realities, a very different thing.
As I have argued, the best thing American diplomats can do now is admit the failure of our long-expired strategies abroad. Implicitly, at least, Kerry has just done so in one of the most important theaters of American foreign policy. This is a sensible, productive thing to do. When you hit a wall, you can either sit there indefinitely or turn around.
What are these realities Kerry has caved to? I count five, two more than the State Department listed when it outlined Kerry’s agenda in Sochi:
* My sources in Moscow tell me that 80 percent of the exchange concerned the pending deal governing Iran’s nuclear program. Look back: Kerry and Obama have one significant foreign policy success to their credit—the opening to Cuba the exception—and a string of messy failures and successes (the restored dictatorship in Egypt, for instance) that would have been better had they failed.
Look forward: Kerry and Obama, both ambitiously aware of “legacy,” have 18 months to land a big one. It does not get much bigger than rapprochement with Tehran.
Kerry should have come to his senses on Iran long before this. Lavrov has been instrumental in bridging an imposing divide between Iran and the P5 + 1 negotiating group—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. Most immediately, it was the Russian foreign minister who persuaded Tehran to consider (for a second time) shipping its uranium stockpiles to Russia and re-importing what it needs for peaceful applications. This provision is on the table now and could prove make-or-break as the June 30 deadline for a deal approaches.
More broadly, relations between Russia and (what is now) Iran are 250 years older than the United States and make a complex, on-again-off-again tale. They are very “on” now, and of all P5 + 1 members, Russia holds more keys to the kingdom than any other.
* Same in Syria: A nearby neighbor, longtime relations. Moscow has supported Damascus since the 1940s and signed a non-aggression pact in 1950. Given how evident American impotence in the Syria crisis has become since the bombing campaigns began last September—and how obvious the common cause between Washington and Damascus—Kerry has been saying the unsayable since March: It is time to talk to Assad. And there is no point talking to Assad without talking to Moscow.
Let us not forget that it was Lavrov, once again, who got Obama and Kerry out of a serious political jam in September 2013, a month after the gas attacks in Damascus the administration instantly and implausibly (and wrongly, it soon turned out) assigned to Assad. The “red line” Obama drew brought the U.S. to the eve of airstrikes, Lavrov then persuading Assad to give up his chemical-weapons inventories.
* Ukraine, like Syria, got 10 percent of Kerry’s time in Sochi. I would have thought more, but this is what I am advised by sound Moscow sources. Of all the questions Kerry raised in Sochi, indeed, the new stance on Ukraine amounts to capitulation as well as a request for cooperation.
Readers will recall a rapid-fire sequence of events earlier this year. As the week of February 1 opened, the administration let it be known via a Times story—a straight feed, newspaper as bulletin board—that it was considering arming the Kiev regime. Next day came an announcement that Kerry was traveling to Ukraine, due for meetings Thursday. The topic seemed obvious.
That Wednesday things got interesting. Chancellor Merkel called François Hollande, the French president, and told him to fly to Kiev immediately. Why interesting: These three—Kerry, Merkel and Hollande—were there the same day, talking to the same government, and did not meet. All three then went to Moscow, again separately.
So far as I can make out, all that has occurred since flowed from that week. Merkel, Hollande and Putin convened another round of ceasefire talks with the Ukrainians in Minsk, where the Minsk II agreement was signed on February 11. Short work, which tells us something. Minsk II is fragile but still in effect and remains the basis for a negotiated settlement.
The Americans were excluded from Minsk—point blank, so far as one can make out. And I love the Times sentence on this in Monday’s paper: “Russia, Germany and France previously made it clear that they did not necessarily welcome the Americans at the negotiating table…” It reminds me of Hirohito announcing the surrender on Japanese radio: “The war has not necessarily proceeded to our advantage.”
At the moment described a long-simmering confrontation between the Europeans and Americans was about to boil over. It was the suggestion that American arms might begin to flow into the Ukrainian conflict that prompted Merkel, with Hollande behind her, to tell Washington, “Enough. Cut it out. We are not with you. We settle this at the table, not with missile systems.”
What we saw in Sochi was Kerry’s acceptance that Washington has been trumped in Ukraine: No one else will any longer stand by as Washington agitates for a military solution, no one is on board for ever-heightened confrontation with Moscow and—miss this not—no one else will any longer pretend that the Poroshenko government is other than a new crop of corrupt incompetents.
Where else does an American diplomat go at such a moment but to a Black Sea beach?
* Fourth reality. European Union leaders are due to meet next month to consider whether to renew or drop sanctions against Russia that expire in July. What I get from sources in Europe is that six E.U. members are likely to oppose renewal and that Germany may make seven by the time of the E.U. talks. Since renewal requires a unanimous vote, the outcome seems to be clear.
As noted at the start of this year, Washington’s overly assertive strategy toward Russia risked a breach in one of two relationships: Europe’s with Russia or America’s with Europe. In my view, the increasing risk of trans-Atlantic damage was another factor in Kerry’s travels last week.
* Last but maybe first, in the best outcome the Obama administration has learned the most important lesson available to it in its foreign relations. No need to do any other than quote Stephen F. Cohen, the Russianist interviewed here a few weeks ago.
“The road to American national security still runs through Moscow,” Cohen said with that conviction that comes of long experience. “There is not a single major regional or issue-related national security problem we can solve without the full cooperation of whoever sits in the Kremlin, period, end of story. Name your poison: We’re talking the Middle East, we’re talking Afghanistan, we’re talking energy, we’re talking climate, we’re talking nuclear proliferation, terrorism, shooting airplanes out of the sky, we’re talking about the two terrorist brothers in Boston.”
My reservation about the best outcome is that it is unlikely. To draw lessons from errors you have to acknowledge them, and our policy cliques rarely do, so missing all opportunity to learn from them. Kerry’s démarche has failure written all over it, but, per usual, it is advanced as merely the successful outcome of a successful strategy. This is how you will read of it, I assure you.
More interesting choreography comes our way already. Kerry was in Sochi last Tuesday. The frightening Victoria Nuland, his assistant secretary for European affairs, was in Kiev by Friday. There, and then in Moscow, Nuland was a misleading claim a minute, suggesting, among much else, that she and Kerry were “fully committed to Minsk implementation.”
What a charade. No one other Americans bamboozled by bad media can take this stuff seriously. Not only were Americans kept away from Minsk—not necessarily invited, I should say—but Nuland and her boss vigorously sought to undermine it as soon as it was signed.
Remember Al Haig at the White House after Reagan was shot in 1981? “I’m in charge here!” This is Victoria Nuland bouncing between Kiev and Moscow as we speak. She runs to catch up while claiming to lead, having been left behind by ministers and diplomats with better things to do than provoke confrontation.
We will have to see where this latest turn leads. I credit Kerry. I do not assign him any transcendently imaginative new take on American strategy in the Middle East, in Ukraine, or in Washington’s ties to Moscow. He has acknowledged failure without admitting it. It is force of circumstance, not more. It is not everything, but it could be a lot more than nothing.
Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century.” He was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter, @thefloutist.