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Failure of Washington's Foreign Policy Imagination

Although I genuinely believe that Washington DC has become an Evil Empire, it is probably useless to write about its foreign policy in terms of morality and emotion. Nobody who disagrees with me wants to be told their government is eeevil, since that is like being told that they are evil; nor do they want to see me indulge in moral posturing on the side of the angels.

That is the advantage to seeing an issue in intellectual terms. It is possible for people in different moods to reach some sort of common ground. "Losing or winning" an argument in this way can be a partial thing, not an example of unconditional surrender. Nor is it as offensive as being told your side is eeevil.

Let's look at Washington's current policy in the Ukraine in this manner. Let's see it as a parallel with another historical event: the lead-up to the Great War of 1914.

Recall that in August of 2014 the Media took a break from its usual drivel to mention the centenary of the Great War. I was surprised (and pleased) that the American media noticed it at all. By luck a cyclist in my Yuma snowbird bicycle club gave me an excellent book, "The War to End All Peace," by Margaret MacMillan. It is not as pro-British as one would expect. In the chapter "Dreadnought" she wrote about the building tension on the seas:

Thanks to its geography Britain had generally been able to regard the growth of powerful land forces on the Continent with equanimity. It could never do so on the seas. The British navy was at once its shield, its means of projecting its strength and its lifeline to the wider world. Every schoolchild was taught how the navy had seen off the Spanish Armada...and had helped to bring Napoleon down.

It was a policy supported not just by the ruling elites but by much of the British public. The British across the political and social spectrum took great pride in their navy...

Tirpitz [ed., the top German admiral], [Kaiser] Wilhelm and their fellow enthusiasts for a big German navy which could challenge Britain's never understood how vitally important the Royal Navy was for the British and that failure of imagination was to cost them, and Europe, dearly.

Could Washington be failing to use the imagination needed to see that Russia considers the Ukraine, Crimea, and Black Sea as being too important to allow the intrusion of NATO and the European Union? There must be somebody in Washington's foreign policy establishment who understands the national mythology of Russia. Of course that doesn't mean that they have any influence.

I only understand the basics of Russian mythology. The story starts with the half-legendary trading voyages and depredations of Swedish Vikings, who used the rivers and portages of today's Russia and Ukraine to get from the Baltic Sea to Constantinople. The Kiev Rus was the first Slavic state, and it was formed on one of those rivers of trade. Eastern Christianity got started there. The center of Holy Russia moved from Kiev to Moscow over time, and it came to be seen as the "third Rome."

How much of this is history, how much is myth? What matters is how securely it is attached to a Russian's DNA. Can you intrude on somebody's "founding" myth and expect them to meekly move aside?


Ed said…
Very good posting!
You understand but as you say even if there is someone in the Washington foreign policy establishment who understands they can not influence President Obama or Valerie Jarret or Samantha Power or John Kerry (who served in Vietnam).
Do you remember when the Media was writing puff pieces about how Joe Biden would bring years of foreign policy experience to the Administration. Where has Joe been with his vaunted foreign policy experience? President Obama doesn't even send him to attend foreign leader funerals - the traditional 'job' for a VP while he sits around waiting for the president to die.
XXXXX said…
I think you would be better off studying the history of languages rather than what you are calling myth in trying to determine what might be in the DNA of a people. You are referring to the implications of DNA in trying to explain attitudes. Language tells a more accurate story about the history of any people as compared to the myths that have come down through the ages.
The Germanic languages of which Russia is included have a history separate from those people who spoke the Romantic languages of which Latin is the basis. The large number of Germanic peoples generally have only oral histories as they weren't too big on writing things down. They tended to be nomadic as compared to the more settled populations around the Mediterranean who had the benefit of good weather for successful farming. These differences between these peoples go back into pre-history. That's about as far as any intelligent person can go for the real core of things is beyond our knowledge.
I think there's way too much speculation going on. It really is a weakness of human beings to constantly feel the need to cross over from what can truly be known into conjecture. This tendency to make conjecture "fact" has been explained psychologically as our need to make ourselves gods.....various selected humans throughout history have fashioned themselves to be so, thus proof of this tendency to be a part of our nature, for some reason or another.
Morality and evil are all in the eyes of the beholder.
"Myth" might be a bad choice for what I was writing about. Perhaps a phrase is needed, such as "tribal identity", or "non-negotiable." I was thinking of Americans willingness to go to war, largely on their Empire's founding myth of "The Good War."
Americans still see their foreign policy in World War II and Cold War terms. I see no escape from Permanent War other than dismantling the Good War (World War II) myth.

Nobody could influence Senators Graham and McCain either!
XXXXX said…
Humans split from chimps somewhere between 8 and 25 million years ago. Civilization began only about 10 thousand years ago and archeological evidence suggests that warfare has been a significant and major part of human culture since the beginning. Seems pretty apparent that our animal natures rule and words, selective memory and selective "facts", along with our notions of our "higher intelligence" and "civility" and general superiority are simply our own mythology at work in the present.
George, my use of "Russian DNA" was not meant literally.
Ed said…
"The Germanic languages of which Russia .."

The only commonality that Germanic and Slavic languages have is they both are Indo-European. In the family of languages they split from the Indo-European into Germanic and Balto-Slavic/Slavic/East Slavic/Old East Slavic and then Russian.

If you look at the family tree of Indo-European languages you will find that Russian branches off the Balto-Slavic limb with Germanic a separate limb.
Joy said…
I'm halfway through a book by David Livingston Smith, "The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War." I recommend it, with regret. I would like to believe that it is too pessimistic,and wrong in many of its assumptions, but ...