Is the US Too Rich to Get Foreign Policy Right?

The only bet more speculative than assessing personal motives might be a bet on conventional wisdom — issues like national security policy.  Just to game the system for a moment, let's look at possible personal political motives vis-à-vis the current Ukraine kerfuffle.  The big dogs in this cage match are Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. in one corner and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in the other.

For Biden, Ukraine is a kind of desperate, or no-lose, gambit.  If Moscow does little or nothing with those massed troops, then Biden can strut and claim that he bluffed the bear, and the beast caved.  Like Afghanistan, if Russia backs off, White House courtiers will gloat and claim a win.  If the Kremlin does strike Ukraine, even with a trespass short of an all-out invasion, Biden can say, "I told you so" and play the prophet.  Either way, Biden doesn't risk much.  The burdens of risk are borne by Ukraine and maybe Georgia.  And surely anything done in the name of "defense" takes place in the shade thrown by a pending 2022 American congressional election with game-changing potential.

Consider, too, that Uncle Sam has already savaged the national sovereignty myth in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, just to name a few recent foreign policy fiascos.

In game Ukraine, the Kremlin is surely driven by different stimuli.  Clearly, Putin sees Biden as an easy mark, maybe an unpopular Delaware dilettante whose sole achievements in forty years are attendance, tenure, and Amtrak subsidies.  Putin reads, too, knows that Biden has a good chance of becoming a lame duck in a matter of months.  Russia may not be trying to restore the empire, but surely Putin knows a buffering opportunity when he sees one.  The Biden era is prime time to draw a line in the East European sand.  Putin believes that the locus of that line is a function of E.U./NATO imperial restraint, not Russian "aggression."

Putin is hoping for a buffer of non-aligned states — certainly not an unrealistic or unprecedented goal in light of existing uncoerced Finnish, Swedish, and Swiss precedents.  In Kiev, Zelensky probably sees the potential of compromise, too, which is why he would like team Biden and the American press to stop thumping the war drums.  After all, the big dogs will be rolling the bones for Ukrainian turf.

Beyond the personal political motives of leadership on both sides of the divide, the larger question of American Russophobia still remains unanswered.  After a century of Cold War, why can't the West take yes for an answer?

European communism is dead.  The so-called "hostage" nations of Europe are free.  The Warsaw Pact is on the ash heap.  Why can't neo-con America, right and left, recognize the hazards of pushing Moscow too far?  Notice also, in keeping with American national cultural memes, that the Russophobia hysteria now has a racist flavor.  Cold War arguments are no longer caveated with red, communist, or totalitarian ideological adjectives; the ogre is now the "genetically" aggressive Russian, according to former DCI James Clapper.

Assuming racism might be a minority view, the obvious Russophobic wellspring is economic.  Clearly, the Cold War with Russia and the perennial war on "terror" are cash cows for the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Defense Department.  Washington is now surrounded by a ring of sutlers and mercenary camp followers — "Beltway whores," as one RAND Corp wag sagely put it a few years back.

Indeed, America throws money at chimeras because it can.  Prudent foreign policy may now be a victim of affluence.

Call it affluenza.

Ever since the Soviet turn-of-the-century implosion, and 9/11, virtue-signaling xenophobes have been buoyed by unlimited cash and deficits.  Not so much for Europeans.  Aside from a general reluctance to finance NATO, Germany stands to take the biggest economic gut punch if things go from bad to worse in the Ukraine morass.  Awash in fiscal excess, Beltway armchair warriors don't just ignore the concerns of Russia, but also ignore hazards to keystone allies like Germany.

Berlin is now as green as Greta Thunberg.  Alas, if natural gas matters, even as a transition fuel, Rodina has her finger on Berlin's thermostat.  We also demonize Russia at the expense of other more serious Ideological and kinetic threats, too.  Communist China and global Islamism are examples.

Just the other day, Russia, China, and Iran conducted unprecedented joint/combined military exercises — an event lost in the miasma of Ukraine hysteria.  Imagine a future political condominium, that included a revanchist Russia, a Communist China, and Shia Islamism, a nightmare troika.  You would think that such a prospect would make twits at State and martinets on the E-Ring soil their knickers.  But no, the national security crowd continues to play whack-a-mole with Islamic terror in the Levant, believing that special ops pinpricks will compensate for ignoring the state sponsors of global jihad and the totalitarian blight metastasizing in China.  

Another threat-related phenomenon flying below the radar these days is schism politics.  Russia and China seem to be siding with Shia/Persian irredentists while America and Europe are endorsing Sunni/Arab tribal totalitarians.  Taking sides in Muslim religious politics is a little like asking for a replay of the Reformation holy wars on a global scale.

As toxic threat memes proliferate, alas, U.S. foreign policy still fights the last war.  American intelligence has been pitching hay for the Russian strawman since the fall of the Romanovs over a century ago now.  Maybe it's time to rethink the Cold War national security threat paradigm and get our heads out of our strategic azimuth.

G. Murphy Donovan writes about the U.S. Intelligence Community and the politics of national security.

Image: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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