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Spengler

The West’s Ukrainian Folly: Wisdom from an Old Cold Warrior

March 20th, 2014 - 2:50 pm

Back when Reagan ran things, we didn’t blather about sanctions against Russia. We used clandestine methods to sabotage its natural gas exports and other key functions. The largest non-nuclear man-made explosion in history, the 1982 Russian natural gas pipeline disaster, was one of the results. A mastermind of this well-documented operation (and some other yet-to-be-documented operations) was the director of planning at the National Security Council under Richard Allen and William Clark, Dr. Norman A. Bailey, who held the title of special assistant to the president. Bailey employed a small team of contractors to obtain intelligence on areas of interest, and I worked for him between 1981 and 1983 on a number of projects, in particular monitoring German politicians and their backers at a time when Europe was inclined to cut a deal with the Soviets rather than take on the evil empire.

Dr. Bailey was my mentor in geopolitics. He told me in late 1981 that the Reagan administration would bring down Communism by 1987 through a massive military buildup and economic competition. I thought he was crazy, so I signed on immediately. Now semi-retired in Israel in a hilltop villa overlooking the Mediterranean, he was the consummate Cold Warrior. After leaving government he formed a consultancy with former CIA Director William Colby and advised multinational corporations.

I received an email from him today on the Western response to the situation in Ukraine and obtained his permission to post it. Dr. Bailey writes:

Granted that hypocrisy is the mother’s milk of both domestic and international politics, but the outcry from Europe and the United States over the Russian seizure of Crimea really is beyond the pale.
The current provisional Ukrainian government is the product of a coup d’état.
Crimea was transferred to Ukraine in 1953 by Khruschchev (who was born in Ukraine) without asking anyone in the Crimea whether they wanted to be transferred or not.  Even former Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev stated, “…Crimea was merged with Ukraine…without asking the people and now the people are correcting that mistake.  This should be welcomed rather than declaring sanction.”
Russia will have no more access to the Mediterranean from Crimea now than it already had under its long-term lease on the naval base in Sevastopol.
As to forceful detachment of territory from a sovereign state, Kosovo was separated from Serbia through the U.S. and European bombing of Serbia until the Serbs agreed.
Finally, despite fierce rhetorical condemnation of the Russian takeover, the sanctions applied with much fanfare are so weak as to be ludicrous and are taken as such by the Russian government.  Russia has much more leverage over Europe than Europe has over Russia.  If Russia were to place an embargo on oil and particularly gas exports to Europe, the Europeans would run out of reserves in two months and then the European economy would shut down.  Russia, in contrast, would merely lose $7.5 billion of revenues.  U.S.-Russian trade is tiny so that trade sanctions by the U.S. would be meaningless.
 As to possible financial sanctions, Russian officials are prohibited from having assets abroad in any case, so that the “freezing” of their assets in the U.S. amounts to nothing at all, despite the monumentally exaggerated declaration of a  “state of emergency” and incredibly weak sanctions taken as a result of a threat to the “national security”.  In response, Russia is reported to have withdrawn $100bn in U.D. treasury bonds.  As to the Europeans, their assets in Russia are three times Russian assets in Europe.
In other words, all the trade and financial leverage is on the side of Russia, not the West.
But most significantly, and a perfect illustration of what may result when the various effects of policies adopted and measures taken are not properly calculated, the reaction of Europe and the U.S. to the Russian takeover of Crimea ensures no Russian cooperation on any meaningful agreement with Iran concerning their plans to achieve the means to produce nuclear weapons.  Indeed, Russia has just agreed to provide Iran with another nuclear power plant.
It can thus be confidently foreseen that sooner or later, and probably sooner, Iran will achieve nuclear weapon capacity.  What should Israel do?  It realistically has two options–attack Iran’s nuclear facilities militarily, which Defense Minister Ya’alon now says he is reconsidering, or take the defensive measures necessary to make sure that Israel is prepared if and when Iran succeeds in miniaturizing its nuclear weapons.

The real Cold Warriors understood that crushing the Evil Empire of Communism required us to take into account the interests of Russia as a nation. The elder statesmen who won the Cold War, including Henry Kissinger (whose opening to China flanked the Soviet Union), are trying in vain to inject a note of sanity into the clown show that passes for American foreign policy on both sides of the aisle. The Republican mainstream mistook Tahrir Square for Lexington Common, and then mistook Maidan for Tahrir Square. If only we were rougher and tougher, it is claimed, Crimea would be free today. That is just plain stupid; there is no possible state of the world in which Crimea would not be Russian. We had some ability to influence the terms under which it would be Russian, and we chose the worst possible course of action, namely open hostility combined with impotent posturing.

We have an elite that lives in its own virtual-reality world circumscribed by a failed ideology, unable to learn from its past mistakes (or even to admit that they were mistakes) and condemned to repeat the same blunders again and again. They posture at Putin the way a small boy stands up to the zoo lion behind cage bars.  The lion, though, is not entirely without alternatives, as the alarming case of Iran should make clear.

What we will get in Ukraine, I might add, is something like what we got in Egypt. While both the Obama administration and Sens. McCain and Graham (along with the likes of Reuel Marc Gerecht at the Weekly Standard) bet on the Muslim Brotherhood as the voice of Islamic democracy, Egypt’s economy collapsed. The IMF tried to get Egypt to cut the food and energy subsidies that consume its budget, and Egypt refused. Eventually the economy crashed and the military came back by mass popular acclaim. Ukraine isn’t quite Egypt (it exports rather than imports food), but its economy is busted, and the West has sent the IMF in once again. That’s a formula for chaos. Putin won’t take over Donetsk or Karkhov. He doesn’t have to. He’ll wait for the West to make an unspeakable mess of Ukraine and then do whatever he wants.

Just fifteen years ago America was the world’s only hyperpower. Now we’re flailing. You can’t simply lose that kind of power. You can only dumb it away.

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