Why is the United States so reluctant to negotiate with other countries and so prone to leap immediately to the option of using force or chicanery in lieu of a more deliberative foreign policy? It might partly be because we Americans are not very good at the subtlety and give-and-take that diplomacy requires, but it could also be because our framework for operating, which shapes what we do and how we do it, is hopelessly skewed. One might even argue that the dominant neoconservative way of thinking has thoroughly infected both parties’ perceptions of how a foreign policy is supposed to work, leading official Washington to see everything in terms of "us and them" while at the same time exonerating every American misstep by citing the largely bogus national security argument to explain places like Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.
The vitriol unloaded on Russia since the rise of Vladimir Putin and most recently to ridicule almost every aspect of the Olympic Games is astonishing. By all means criticize Russia for its slide into authoritarianism, but turning it into a target of choice for ignorant media, politicians and White House spokesmen is just downright stupid. Moscow’s cooperation is essential to resolve a number of international crises and the hostility radiating from Washington only makes the world a much more dangerous place for everyone.
The sustained pressure on the Ukraine over the past several months has likewise been remarkable and, under other circumstances, it would all be difficult to explain but for the fact that it and Russia are essentially two halves of one policy that is being orchestrated by the same group of neoconservatives, some of whom have now, fortuitously enough, attached themselves to the party in power in the White House, which is the Democrats. It was easy enough to do as many neocons are basically liberal Democrats if one excludes their aggressive foreign policy views.
Remember the pastel revolutions in Eastern Europe that were sponsored by the United States and some western nations but which are now best forgotten? Involvement of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) in places like the Ukraine and Moldova sure turned out well, particularly when the biggest baddest NGO of all, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) got involved. When the Russians and others complained about the activities of NGOs interfering in their domestic politics NED was what they were referring to. NED instinctively favored people who called themselves democrats and were able to speak English, polyglot ability somehow demonstrating their political reliability. They turned out to be as corrupt as their predecessors and no less inclined to fool around with the electoral system they inherited. Tinkering in Georgia by Washington and its Israeli surrogates almost led to American involvement in a war with Russia in which Washington had no conceivable interest. Remember John McCain’s "We are all Georgians now?"
Those who are aware of the insidious activities of NED, an ostensibly private foundation that spreads “democracy” and is largely funded by Congress, know that it has a Democratic Party half in its National Democratic Institute, and a Republican Party half in its International Republican Institute. Madeleine Albright is in charge of the NED Dems while John McCain leads the NED GOP. Which is not to say that there is much in the way of adult supervision, probably a good thing as otherwise NED would be even more meddlesome than it already is.
After wrecking Eastern Europe NED has gone on to do yeoman’s work relating to the Arab Spring, the results of which are clearly visible in Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq. But now the focus is again on the former Soviet Union with millions of dollars going to opposition parties, this time with the full force of an uncritical mainstream media behind the effort. Easily forgotten are two indisputable facts relating to Russia and the Ukraine. First, before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, there was an understanding that the US and Europe would not use the situation as an excuse to expand their spheres of influence into Eastern Europe. NED and other groups violated that understanding almost immediately and now Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania and Poland are in the European Union and also in NATO, an organization that has absolutely no raison d’etre apart from serving as a military alliance against Russia.
Second, today’s Ukraine was largely shaped by Josef Stalin during Second World War, when parts of Poland and Romania that had Ukrainian majorities were annexed. The Ukraine is roughly seventy-five per cent Ukrainian ethnically but ten million Ukrainian citizens are ethnic Russians, more than 17% of the population. Many Ukrainians therefore look to Russia as a natural ally and trading partner while those who once were part of Poland tend to look westward, but what is indisputable is that the current mildly pro-Moscow Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych came to power after a free election monitored by international observers in 2010. Yanukovych believes in strong ties to Russia but is also friendly to the European Union and the United States. In spite of that studied neutrality Washington and the Europeans are stirring up unrest and trying to coerce the Ukrainian government into entering into a formal arrangement with the EU that its elected leadership believes to be not in its best interests. Protesters, supported and possibly even trained and equipped by Europe and the US, have responded with violence.
The US State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland has been a leader in the drive to punish the Ukraine and force it to become part of the EU. "We stand with the people of Ukraine who see their future in Europe," she said rather undiplomatically in December. But who is Nuland anyway? She is described in the media as an experienced diplomat, which in a sense she is, but if that phrase is intended to imply that she is completely a professional it would be misleading. She is the wife of leading neoconservative Robert Kagan, who is best known for his assertion that Americans "are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." Kagan, who is quite portly and has characteristically never served in the US armed forces, presumably is Martian by adoption.
Victoria Nuland’s access to senior levels of government began when served as principal deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, a position possibly obtained through the good graces of her husband’s neocon associates, who were in the ascendancy at the Pentagon and White House at that time. She then moved on to become US Ambassador to NATO under Bush-Cheney before bouncing back to Washington to work as Hillary Clinton’s press secretary. In that capacity she has sometimes been described as comfortable in working with both conservatives and liberals, but that would be misleading as in terms of foreign policy Clinton is no liberal, strongly pro-Israel and aligning largely with the neocon vision of an American that is ready, willing and able to use force and coercion to establish a new world order that is subordinate to US interests.
Like her husband, Nuland, backed by the White House and politicians including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, is consistently hostile to Moscow, possibly because the neocon world view favors the predominantly Jewish oligarchs who looted the Russian economy before being brought to heel by Putin. National Security statists also require a powerful adversary to validate their assumptions about the need to reorganize and lead the world to deal with transnational threats. Nuland predictably refused to congratulate Putin on his most recent electoral victory and she has gone to bat for groups like "Pussy Riot" to embarrass the Russian government.
Nuland was recently intercepted in a telephone conversation with the US Ambassador to the Ukraine Geoff Pyatt. She and the ambassador discussed whom they would support in their drive to rearrange the Ukrainian government, bringing in the UN afterwards to "glue" the deal. Nuland, who has visited the Ukraine several times to speak to the demonstrators and pass out cookies, described the possible European Union (EU) role in such a project disparagingly, using a four letter word which was widely reported in the media. The focus on her language somewhat obscured the far more important content of the call, discussing plans to destabilize the Ukraine while actively working to select one opposition politician as the preferred choice to bring about change in the government.
Victoria Nuland’s call over an unencrypted phone line to discuss highly sensitive matters was, at a minimum, a security violation. She and the Administration subsequently tried to frame it as a Russian setup, calling it "impressive tradecraft," which it was not, but there is no actual evidence that Russia was in any way involved in the intercept, though it did exploit the damaging material that was handed to it on a platter. And the complaint about spying is itself deliciously ironic coming from a government in Washington that has been tapping nearly everyone’s phones with impunity.
Ideologues like Victoria Nuland, who might serve as a poster child for what is wrong with the US government, constitute only one element in the dysfunctional White House view of the world and how to interact with it. Former Senior State Department official James Bruno asks "Why does America send so many stupid, unqualified hacks overseas?" For the first time since the Second World War more than half of all US Ambassadors overseas are political appointees rather than career diplomats, yet another instance of President Barack Obama’s saying one thing while running for office and doing another thing when actually in power. Bruno describes an ambassador to Sweden lying drunk in the snow, the current hotel chain owner nominee for Norway who did not know the country was a constitutional monarchy, and a TV soap opera producer pick for Hungary who had no idea what interests the US might have in the country. One Obama appointee Seattle investor Cynthia Stroum actually was forced to resign after running her embassy in Luxembourg into the ground, verbally abusing her staff and spending embassy funds on personal travel and alcohol.
All of these splendid examples of American officialdom have one thing in common: they gave a lot of money to the Obama campaign. Raising $1.79 million is now the going price for an ambassadorship. Good work Mr. Obama. You promised transparency and have again exceeded all expectations by appointing ambassadors whose lack of qualifications would embarrass the head of state of a banana republic. With Victoria Nuland firmly at the helm of our ship of state in Europe and working to overthrow a friendly government while a group of rich but clueless clowns heads our embassies every American will henceforth know that he or she can sleep safe at night.