August 11, 2008EurasiaEuropeForeign AffairsGeorgiahegemonymilitaryNATORealismrealpolitikRussiaUnited Stateswar

American pundits show signs of irony deficiency

No realpolitik please, we’re Americans

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Many American geopolitical pundits are behaving just like their economic counterparts. If the latter believed that a long period of growth and low inflation meant the demise of the business cycle, the former convinced themselves that the long period of relative peace between the world’s great powers indicated the end of history”. Then facts intervened.

In today’s Washington Post, Ronald D. Asmus and Richard Holbrooke argue that this moment could well mark the end of an era in Europe during which realpolitik and spheres of influence were supposed to be replaced by new cooperative norms and a country’s right to choose its own path.” Perhaps it was the supposition that was wrong. They go on to argue that the US needs to counter Russian pressure on its neighbors, especially Ukraine—most likely the next target in Moscow’s efforts to create a new sphere of hegemony.” They pull off a remarkable feat—they condemn realpolitik and advocate it. Of course, they only condemn realpolitik when it is practised by the Russians.

And in another essay in the same newspaper, Robert Kagan (John McCain’s foreign policy advisor) writes that Russia’s attack on sovereign Georgian territory marked the official return of history, indeed to an almost 19th-century style of great-power competition, complete with virulent nationalisms, battles for resources, struggles over spheres of influence and territory, and even — though it shocks our 21st-century sensibilities — the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives.” It is, of course, understandable that Mr Kagan should use the phrase return of history” as that’s the title of his recent book. But it is amusing to note that the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives” in the 21st century should be shocking.

The irony deficiency is bipartisan. The New York Times reports: Michael McFaul, a Russia expert at Stanford who is advising Barack Obama, also views Russia as a premodern, sphere-of-influence power. He attributes Russia’s hostility to further NATO expansion less to geostrategic calculations than to what he says is Mr. Putin’s cold war mentality. The essential Russian calculus, he says, is,”Anything we can do to weaken the U.S. is good for Russia.“” So what is NATO expansion but the Russian calculus in reverse?

But it is Dick Cheney who takes the cake. Russian aggression must not go unanswered,” he told Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, who had launched the war, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the US.” Surely, Mr Cheney can’t be thinking that the consequences of answering it will be any less serious?

Update: It’s spreading! The FT catches it now.

Russia’s behaviour in the southern Caucasus is a reversion to spheres of influence and balance of power politics. If Moscow really believes the west is behaving the same way, that is the sort of difference a new strategic partnership with the EU would resolve. This way, it will never get one. In fact, Russia will never get to where it wants to be in the 21st century by behaving like a 19th-century power. [FT]



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