Your Language Lesson for the Day

by Dave Schuler on March 29, 2014

According to Anne Applebaum in the Russian sphere of influence today, “LGBT” means pro-Western:

Afterward, I worked it out. The lawyer meant to say that Saakashvili — who drove his country hard in the direction of Europe, pulled Georgia as close to NATO as possible and used rough tactics to fight the post-Soviet mafia that dominated his country — was “too Western.” Not conservative enough. Not traditional enough. Too much of a modernizer, a reformer, a European. In the past, such a critic might have called Saakashvili a “rootless cosmopolitan.” But today the insulting code word for that sort of person in the former Soviet space — regardless of what he or she thinks about homosexuals — is LGBT.

I think that President Obama is overstating his case when he makes the claim that Putin’s Russia isn’t the vanguard of some “global ideology”. In the recent UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea the vote was 100 in favor of condemning it, 11 opposed, with 58 abstentions.

Those who voted against the condemnation were Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. That’s a combination of countries affiliated very closely with Russia, the usual suspects, and the “Bolivarian” countries of Latin America. But look at the passive-aggressive abstentions. They include China, India, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, and Pakistan. They include countries on every continent and the largest countries in the world. They represent more than half of the people in the world and more than half of its land territory.

If President Putin can claim the leadership of this 21st century “non-aligned movement”, the next few years may be very troubling times. We could face a global ideology of opposition.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

michael reynolds March 29, 2014 at 10:23 am

Backlash against a tolerance-based, multicultural approach to the world. So basically the Tea Party on a global scale.

Andy March 29, 2014 at 10:43 am

Michael,

The vast majority of the world doesn’t subscribe to a “tolerance-based, multicultural” ideology. That is simply a fact and a paternalistic foreign policy will do little but produce a backlash.

Afghaniman March 29, 2014 at 11:02 am

I’m sure many of those abstentions were an acknowledgment of EU/US meddling (though predominantly the latter; EU usually gets a pass as they’re considered stooges regarding US foreign policy), but on the other hand some aren’t to comfortable with land grabs/parts of a country splitting off even if the population wants it. So I don’t think Putin is a good leader for that Non-aligned movement, but I think it’s definitely in the cards for a country like China to aspire to.

I was surprised China didn’t seize the opportunity to act as a mediator in the current US/Russian crisis of relations.

PD Shaw March 29, 2014 at 11:31 am

I don’t think the question is whether Russia currently leads an ideological movement, its what will the future bring.

I saw an article that took the opposite interpretation of China. The write said that _even_ China wasn’t supporting Russia and that was a big deal. I took it as China once again abstains from controversial matters it sees outside of its sphere of interests, and if anything, it was an implicit support of Russia having a sphere of interest that other powers should not meddle in.

I personally would not have appointed gay or lesbians to Russia like Obama did, but it was amusing.

michael reynolds March 29, 2014 at 11:51 am

Andy:

I think we are required as a matter of morality to stand up for our beliefs: democracy, religious liberty, freedom of speech, assembly and all the rest.

The rest of the world may prefer dictatorship (though how can you tell?) and repression, but that’s not who we are, not who our European and Asian allies are, and we have a right and obligation to criticize thugs like Mr. Putin and many others. If they don’t like hearing it, too goddamned bad.

Andy March 29, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Michael,

Nothing wrong with criticism or promoting, within limits, our own values. At the end of the day, however, we have to deal with the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. We cannot afford to allow ideology to trump our national interests.

michael reynolds March 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Andy:

Our national interests cannot be incompatible with our values beyond a certain point. We do business with Saudi Arabia and we exempt them from criticism we might level were they less important. So the answer there is to continue doing business with the KSA but work to reduce our dependence on that vile nation.

I don’t believe the United States will fare well with a strictly pragmatic approach. We are the original nation built on an ideal. If we aren’t true to our core character we lose the war in order to win battles. And that idealism, however imperfectly implemented, is still part of our soft power. That combination of hard and soft power is what we have that no one else does. It’s part of what makes us indispensable in the world.

Not to draw too heavily on fiction writing, but one of the essential lessons is that you never alter character for the convenience of the plot because once you undercut your character you’ve betrayed the reader and likely lost the reader.

Dave Schuler March 29, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Our national interests cannot be incompatible with our values beyond a certain point.

There is no such point. KSA is a perfect example. The Saudis practice slavery, let little girls burn to death in a burning building rather than let them be seen by men they’re not related to, keep women, essentially, as chattel, and explicitly practice the most extreme forms of religious persecution. We condone all of this tacitly.

In diplomacy values are almost always play-acting. Giving speeches to the rubes in the cheap seats who are easily impressed. There is practically nothing we’re accusing the Russians of that we haven’t done ourselves just in the last thirty years.

... March 29, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Because a small government don’t tread on me movement is exactly like Putin’s authoritarianism.

Reynolds, you are all in favor of tolerance and a diversity of viewpoints just so long as it excludes everyone that doesn’t agree 100% with the Democratic party.

I’ll also note that you have no tolerance of Germans, Russians or Americans of the white variety. Nor have you allowed that there may be any reason to oppose Obama except racism.

Frankly, your constant denunciation of wreckers reeks more of Stalinism than Putin’s rhetoric. But then you leftists are all Stalin or Pol Pot at heart, just waiting for thechance to exterminate your enemies.

... March 29, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Last thirty years? Don’t need a time frame that long. Just since Putin came to power. Hell, the last three would probably cover most of it.

Also note that the extreme non-interventionists of the later years of the Bush presidency have now switched their tunes entirely. Any country can be wrecked, just so long as their guy is doing it, anddamn all consequences.

Dave Schuler March 29, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Because a small government don’t tread on me movement is exactly like Putin’s authoritarianism.

I gather that Michael believes that 100% of Tea Party members are social conservatives. He has very strong views on social conservatives which I presume are rooted in experience.

Andy March 29, 2014 at 1:35 pm

“We condone all of this tacitly.”

True in many aspects of human relations, not just foreign policy. .

Michael,

You can look at Egypt for what happens when we try to meddle and enlighten the “wogs.” The result is no democracy along with worse relations with Egypt and other Arab governments. Or Iraq, which was supposed to be a beacon of Democracy in the middle east. Or Afghanistan. Ideological value-driven foreign policy leads to these ends more often than not.

michael reynolds March 29, 2014 at 1:53 pm

This is the world reduced to nothing but money. Money as the only value.

It’s depressing to see intelligent people simply pooh-pooh as pandering to the cheap seats what is essential to the American people and to the world.

You should be ashamed of yourselves. And you shouldn’t need an atheist to tell you that there are other things in the world than narrow, money-defined self-interest.

Dave Schuler March 29, 2014 at 2:09 pm

You should be ashamed of yourselves. And you shouldn’t need an atheist to tell you that there are other things in the world than narrow, money-defined self-interest.

You’re confusing acknowledgement with advocacy. I don’t advocate our behavior. I’ve opposed it for more than forty years.

You’re being mislead, Michael. The people you’re investing your trust in don’t believe what they’re saying.

Go back to the example you cited, Michael. How can you explain our relationship with Saudi Arabia without acknowledging that we betray our own values in that relationship? The relationship has been deemed more important than our values. But not by me.

Andy March 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm

“This is the world reduced to nothing but money. Money as the only value.”

No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply pointing out the world isn’t as black-and-white as you seem to suggest. And, I’m suggesting that it is simply not possible to base our foreign relations on how closely other nations’ values mirror our own. It can and should be a factor, but not the dominant one (situation dependent of course). In international relations, countries have to deal or even ally with nations that don’t share values in order to further some interest. That’s been true long before there was a United States and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

“How can you explain our relationship with Saudi Arabia without acknowledging that we betray our own values in that relationship?”

Personally, I don’t buy that argument. It suggests that a relationship with another nation betrays our own values. I don’t think that’s the case at all. After all, as an individual, I have relationships with people with different values all the time – I don’t believe those relationships compromise my own values and, similarly, I don’t think that transactional relationship between nations compromise American values.

Ken Hoop March 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm

http://news.antiwar.com/2014/03/26/obama-paints-crimea-secession-as-worse-than-iraq-war/

“Anti-war” Obama let the Cheney-Bush-Feith-Wolfy criminal WMD liars off the hook.
Now he says an almost bloodless return of Crimea to Russia is much worse than the US invasion/occupation of Iraq based on willfully told lies which cost a million lives.
The man’s a reckless drone-bombing of innocents hypocrite with no regard for ethics.

michael reynolds March 29, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Go back to the example you cited, Michael. How can you explain our relationship with Saudi Arabia without acknowledging that we betray our own values in that relationship?

Actually, I said as much re: the KSA. The fact – and it is a fact – that we frequently fail to live up to our standards is not an argument either that we have no standards or should have none. The perfect can’t be the enemy of the good. We are all sinners, but some of us are more mortally so than others.

I don’t for a minute believe that all of our presidents and all of our SecStates have believed something radically different from what I believe. In fact, with some obvious exceptions, I think their core values and mine are largely in synch. I don’t think FDR secretly pushed to help out Churchill for pragmatic reasons, I think he was an idealist. The smart and moral-free move was to sell weapons to all concerned while redoubling effort on nuclear research.

I don’t think Jimmy Carter was amoral. I don’t think Ronald Reagan was amoral. I don’t think Obama is amoral. No, not even Mr. Bush.

The amoral but pragmatic move to make after 9-11 was not a minimalist invasion and occupation. The pragmatic move would be to use nuclear weapons to exterminate the Pashtun population. That’s what Genghis would have done. That’s what Stalin would have done if he’d lived in unipolar times. Exterminate them, eliminating thereby the possibility of direct blowback, and send a rather pointed message to anyone else who wanted to screw with us. Afghanistan solved: permanently.

We don’t do things like that (anymore) because we are attempting to live up to our own ideals. Instead, we try to get Pashtun girls to go to school. We inoculate Pashtun kids against polio. We create elaborate rules for who we can and cannot drone.

And how has that worked? Hasn’t worked worth a damn. But even Bush and Cheney were not ready to make the amoral winning move.

It is because we have conducted ourselves with remarkable restraint given the power imbalance between us and the rest of the world that we have now no counterbalance. The world has not united to stand up to us. Rather the contrary, they’ve adopted our approaches to economics and to an extent governance. Because we are an essentially moral force.

And before I get the inevitable laundry list of terrible things we’ve done, weigh those actions against our potential abuses of power. Ask yourself what Stalin would have done with this disproportionate power. The distance between what Stalin would have done, and what any recent American president has done, reveals the moral core of American foreign policy.

Of course we will continue to balance morality against pragmatism, as we all do in our own lives. But the fact that we make that effort is why we are not Russia, or China, neither of whom in our position would hesitate to ruthlessly exploit their power.

michael reynolds March 29, 2014 at 7:25 pm

It suggests that a relationship with another nation betrays our own values. I don’t think that’s the case at all. After all, as an individual, I have relationships with people with different values all the time – I don’t believe those relationships compromise my own values and, similarly, I don’t think that transactional relationship between nations compromise American values.

Of course it implicates us when we do business with tyrants. You can’t sell a gun to a mafia hitman and pretend you’re behaving morally. You have to own your actions. Our actions as regards the KSA are disgusting. We are propping up an evil regime for our own purposes.

Of course we do have to make those compromises. Yes, we have to balance what we’d like to do against what we need to do. But that can’t be allowed to change our direction, our goals. Put it this way: if the time comes when we can sell the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia down the river and get some less heinous regime, good. If a bunch of Vermonters or even Utahans suddenly finds themselves in a position to take over the KSA, excellent.

It’s not a matter of seeing the world as black and white, it’s a matter of seeing black and white as black and white. We have to know what’s right. We have to keep clearly in mind who we are and what we want. The other day in passing Dave described the government of Gaddafi as “legitimate.” No, it was not legitimate. There was no government, there was a criminal holding a country hostage.

It would be unrealistic to expect that we will behave properly in all situations. When we make moral compromises we should know it, we should face up to it, we should recognize that we are supping with the devil, and as soon as possible we should change that.

jan March 29, 2014 at 7:26 pm

That was a remarkably sensible, well expressed, even-handed post above, Michael.

steve March 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm

You left Israel off the list of abstentions. After all we have done for them. Go figure. Anyway, I see this as mostly anti_american sentiment among those who voted against the condemnation. I think many of the abstentions fall in there also, but some are also from countries with territorial issues of their own. I think a fe wothers just dont care that much.

Steve

Mercer March 29, 2014 at 9:18 pm

“we have a right and obligation to criticize thugs like Mr. Putin ”

I think Putin could be called a thug for actions like killing journalists but find it difficult to be outraged by his actions in Ukraine.

An elected government was overthrown by a mob. The mob was encouraged by Victoria Nuland – an Assistant Secretary of the US State Department who was recorded discussing who should be in the government of Ukraine over the phone.

If a mob overthrew an elected government that was friendly to the US do you think the US would do nothing?

The vote in Crimea was scheduled hastily but no one thinks it does not represent what a solid majority of the population wants. What is so sacred about preserving Khrushchev’s geography? Is it more important than self determination?

If you want to be morally outraged there are better targets in the world than Putin. You can start with Pakistan which jailed the doctor who helped find Osama while getting US aid for being an “ally”.

Dave Schuler March 30, 2014 at 7:36 am

The other day in passing Dave described the government of Gaddafi as “legitimate.” No, it was not legitimate.

Two years prior to its overthrow, Gaddafi’s government had a seat on the Security Council. It was the accepted government of Libya on the part of, to the best of my knowledge, every government in the world including ours. It was supported by a large proportion of the Libyan people.

You don’t get any more legitimate than that. If it wasn’t legitimate, neither is our government. Fair and democratic elections aren’t the only gauge of whether a government is legitimate. Evil-doing doesn’t render a government illegitimate. If that were true, there wouldn’t be a legitimate government in the world, including ours.

Dave Schuler March 30, 2014 at 7:50 am

I agree with most of what you wrote hereand here, Michael. We’re getting a little far afield. You wrote:

Our national interests cannot be incompatible with our values beyond a certain point.

If there is such a point, there must be some action we would or would not perform because it would be incompatible with our values. Otherwise, they’re not values. Where is that point in this specific context? I think our actions WRT KSA are completely dictated by expediency and there is no such point which means our officials have no values other than, possibly, the urge to power, i.e. getting re-elected. If you only conform to your values when the cost is low, your values aren’t what you think they are.

The way my dad once put it was that elected officials compromise their principles so frequently that they no longer have any.

Please note that I’m not defending our actions here. I just think that’s how we’re acting. My own view is encapsulated in the old wisecrack “he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon”. I don’t think we can preserve our values unless we’re much more careful about what we do or don’t do on the international scene.

TastyBits March 30, 2014 at 9:37 am

@michael reynolds

Congratulations on an apolitical piece. It would be nice if there could be more discussions like this.

The world functions on power, and the good guys are usually the least powerful. If you want the good guys to win, you will need to support them with power. This can be either US military or money to purchase their military, but both of these have problems when implemented.

Often, there are no good guys, and the least bad guys are nowhere near what the US considers good. Another option in this case is to create a good guy – nation building. The problem withe this option is that it takes time for the new values to take hold. Using the British Empire as a model, it will take at least three generations, but I do not think the US is willing to wait 60 years.

Actions have consequences, but for the past twenty-five years, the US has acted as if this was not the case. Creating instability in the Middle East has ramifications outside the ME. The two are inseparable, and they are both good or bad. I am not making a value judgement.

In too many cases, an end is chosen, but the rules to achieve that end prohibit it from being achieved. Debate about US foreign policy is about ends and means, but the ends and means are mixed and matched to suit a political goal. In addition, the ends and means may be changed at any time for political gain.

When I give assessments, it is based upon power and a willingness to use power, but I was keeping up on alternate sources of information. Unless it is a deliberate tactic, a show of force with a lack of will to use that force is worse than doing nothing. This is what all hawks fail to understand, and this is why I mock them as delusional.

Most people do not want realistic assessments, and this is why they are continually surprised at what happens. Assad must fall because he is a bad guy. A realistic assessment was that this was not going to happen, but nobody wanted to hear it. Arming the good rebels is OK. A realist assessment was that the most ruthless rebels would take the arms from the good rebels, but nobody wanted to hear it. I could go on and on.

I would suggest that supporting Saudi Arabia being overthrown would have serious ramifications. Presently, Mecca and Medina are located in a stable country. I would think long and hard before introducing chaos into another Muslim country. If you want reform, put together a more comprehensive long term plan.

Dave Schuler March 30, 2014 at 9:55 am

I would suggest that supporting Saudi Arabia being overthrown would have serious ramifications.

I don’t support the Saudi government being overthrown. I think our relationship with the Sauds should be less cozy than it presently is. I think sanctions should be imposed on them. I don’t think they should be allowed to travel freely in this country.

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