Dear Petro Poroshenko,
Be careful of American support.
Now that you are about to become a close ally of the US and a dictator at the same time, you should be warned that this might not be the beginning of a long-living love affair that inevitably ends with an account full of dollars, an army equipped with the finest stuff ever produced to kill your enemies, with the warm feeling of security because your American advisers taught your people how to get rid of your opponents, and with standing ovations at the UN Security Council for whatever you will say against Russians and other foes.
This is a little history lesson to remind you that the weather in Washington is much more capricious than the continental climate of Eurasia.
The US certainly won Cold War, but not necessarily their Allies. One of the first to experience that fine difference was Saddam Hussein, Washington’s close ally in the Middle East for much of the 1980s. Hussein was a CIA asset to overthrow the Qassim-Regime, which was for the Americans too close to Soviet Union. In 1963, he successfully organized a coup and rewarded his American supporters by killing hundreds of Iraqi communists and with oilfields for American companies. But only in 1979, after another coup in Iraq and one in Iran, Hussein became chosen by the US as " our bad guy" in the region. When the Mullahs in Iran blow away the Shah, he became a useful idiot to take revenge for one of the biggest failures of American policy in the Cold War. Whatever he wished from the US to wage a war against Iran, he got it. Americans can be very generously, no question about it. They even provided him with chemical weapons to kill whoever he liked to kill.
However, it took not a long time after the Soviet Union collapsed, that the Americans changed their attitude towards Saddam Hussein. For their new grand gamble to rebuilt the Middle East, he was now more useful as an enemy than as an ally. Hussein was trapped to invade Kuwait to provide a pretext for the First Gulf War, followed by years of the sanctions, the no-fly-zone, and it ended with another gulf war, and a hole as the last refuge for Saddam and a not so nice execution in the dark of the night.
Lesson learned? You can kill as much as enemies of the US as possible, you can sell your natural resources, but it will not shield you, when the storm from Washington takes another direction.
Do you remember Mobuto Sese Seko, the long-standing ally of Americans in the heart of Africa? You should, Ukrainian peacekeepers went there to tame the chaos that was left by his downfall in 1997. With the help of the CIA, Mobuto took over the Congo by a coup d’etat in 1965, and since then he was their most willing ally in Africa. He was their man to deliver weapons for the UNITA in the Angolan civil war and for the RENAMO in Mozambique, and of course, he was to ensure the unhindered plunder of the Congo by American companies, most notably the plutonium for American atom bombs. But then in the 1990s, Americans lost their interest in Africa, and Mobuto with all his eccentricities, his corruption and incompetence became a burden for President Clinton, who was propagating a new world order free from such oriental despots. If Mobuto had lived long enough to read the leaked telegrams of the US Embassy in Kinshasa, he would have learned that despite all the services he did for the US, he wasn’t in such high regard by his American allies.
Lesson learned? You can shake as many hands of American presidents and politicians as you want, you will never know what they really think of you.
Not scared enough, because you think these are fancy tales from the old times of the Cold War? How about Noriega, trained by the CIA to control the Panama and to help them with their war against the drug cartels in the 1980s. But then, in the wake of the Contra-Iran scandal of 1986, his involvements in drug smuggling became somehow a nuisance for the dirty warriors of the US. In order to get rid of him, the US invaded Panama at the end of 1989 and arrested him after they treated him with noisy rock music for days to force his surrender. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, released after 17 years only the take another round in a French prison.
Lesson learned? American pop culture is not only for entertainment it can be a weapon, too. You may have buried your not so humble origins in war of oligarchs in the 1990s, but there is certainly some file at Langley waiting to be opened if it suits somebody.
There are so many other dictators who tried to strike a deal with the US only to end up in prison or on a graveyard. What about Colonel Muammar al-Ghadafi? Okay, he was an arch enemy of the US for most of his life. But when he tried to change the sides and supported the American war on terror by offering the services of his torture experts to hunt Al-Qaeda, he was not awarded with American friendship but with bombs that drove him out of his palace and an assassination squad that killed him. Assad of Syria, who tried to buy time by offering similar services, barely missed that fate, but only with the help of Putin. Russians, it seems, are more loyal to their "bad guys". Think about Castro! Who was freed from his debt burden by the Russians last year. Do you hope the IMF will be that generous? Or the Chinese, after all the years, they still stick to Mugabe even if Xi Jinping is miles away from Zhuo Enlai, who laid the foundations of this special relationship in the 1960s. I guess, they even still sing together revolutionary songs behind closed doors, after some drinks.
Lesson learned? The University of Kiev, where you made your degree, is, after all, not Ivy League and that is all what counts. As a former apparatchik you will never know if your conversion to a democrat and capitalist is taken seriously by your American allies. You will be under suspicion as all the other converted ex-terrorists, ex-Marxists, ex-dictators, who bow to the American flag.
American politics, you should know, are a snake pit. There are so many agencies, institutions, lobby groups involved that you will never know who is in charge of foreign policy. There are dozens of think tanks that, in order to be heard in this choir of voices, come up with a constant stream of new strategies, priorities and emerging conflicts to be made relevant to the US. The president, despite all the glamor and pithiness surrounding his office, is only a moderator between all these different factions and voices. The American empire is overstretched, there are so many conflicts to be manipulated, so many interests to be served that you can never be sure what is your actual ranking on the priority list. After all, the only thing what counts are domestic politics, the polls and the contributions for the re-election campaigns. In this murky world of an empire that regards itself as chosen by god and as indispensable, you are what you are: an outsider, an useful idiot in your best days, a burden when the US changes its priorities or loses its interest for you.
I hope you will sleep well.
Michael Pesek is a lecturer in global history at the Humboldt-University of Berlin for many years. He has been published in major German and French newspapers.