‘Do you realize what you have done?’

This morning, as world leaders prepared to address the United Nations General Assembly, in Afghanistan the Taleban stormed the city of Kunduz. If the Islamic State’s capture of the Iraqi city of Mosul last year wasn’t evidence enough of a failure of American foreign and military policy, the loss of Kunduz surely is.

Speaking to the UN, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin made it clear that he believes that the Americans have only themselves to blame. The strength of the United Nations, Putin said, comes from taking different points of view into consideration. Unfortunately, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, those ‘at the top of the pyramid’ (i.e. the USA and its allies) felt that they knew best and did not need to bother with what others thought or with the UN. As a result, they weakened the rule of international law. Putin implied that the chaos engulfing much of the Middle East and Central Asia was entirely the Americans’ fault (he carefully avoided mentioning the United States by name, but it was clear whom he was talking about).

Putin complained that the West has decided that its values and systems are universally valid. This isn’t true, he said. Rather, ‘We are all different, and one should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model’. Western states have promoted revolution in countries such as Syria, Libya, and Ukraine. The consequences have been catastrophic. According to Putin:

The export of revolution … continues. … How did it actually turn out? … brazen destruction of national institutions … violence, poverty, and social disaster. … I cannot help asking those who caused this situation, ‘Do you realize what you have done?’

The West, Putin argued, has created ‘anarchy areas’, which immediately filled up with militants and terrorists. Worse, Western states have actively supported some of these militants. The Islamic State ‘did not just come from nowhere’. The United States imagines that it is manipulating the terrorist organizations which it sponsors in countries such as Syria to advance its own goals, and that it can jettison those organizations once they have served their purpose. But the terrorists are clever people, and ‘you never know who is manipulating whom’. Arming them, as the USA has done in Syria, is ‘hazardous’ and will only lead to even more terrorism.

‘We can no longer tolerate what is happening in the world,’ Putin continued, calling for the creation of ‘a genuinely broad international coalition against terrorism’. Russia will therefore use its upcoming presidency of the UN Security Council to try to broker a resolution to coordinate the efforts of all nations fighting terrorism in the Middle East, he declared. But Putin added a catch – such a coalition has to rest upon the UN Charter. In other words, it must respect the sovereignty of states. That means supporting Assad, and refusing to support the revolutionary groups which seek regime change by force. More generally, it means abandoning the export of revolution, whether it be in the Middle East or elsewhere, such as in Ukraine, where, Putin said, American had sponsored a ‘military coup’, the inevitable consequence of which was ‘civil war’.

In a section of his speech dealing with international trade, Putin complained that, ‘The rules of the game have been changed in favour of a narrow group with special privileges.’ This pretty much sums up his view of what it is wrong with the current international order. Putin challenges the existing ‘rules of the game’, but only because he believes that since the end of the Cold War somebody else has rewritten them without consulting the rest of the world. He wants to take them back to what they were originally supposed to be when the United Nations was founded in 1945, and to create a truly multilateral world order, based upon respect for difference and recognition of all states as independent and equal. This is at heart quite a conservative vision.

As the Taleban flag flies over Kunduz tonight, the West should ponder Putin’s question, ‘Do you realize what you have done?’ Putin’s conservative statism is far from perfect, but compared with American ‘permanent revolution’ it is looking quite good as a basis for international order.

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24 thoughts on “‘Do you realize what you have done?’”

  1. A great post, Paul; very thought-provoking. Putin certainly calls it like he sees it, and while he must have his own blind spots it is hard to disagree that the western meddle-model has been a catastrophe for those it was purported to lift up in freedom and democracy. I find it hard to imagine the west screwed it up that badly through sheer incompetence, and so am forced to reluctantly conclude it was deliberate, and turned out largely as the planners had anticipated it would.

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  2. Great post. You highlighted those parts of his speech that were most telling. It illustrates that the multi-polar world is here to stay; the shift is happening, and the faces and smiles (or lack thereof) illustrate who is facing increasing isolation – and it isn’t Russia.

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  3. “Putin’s conservative statism is far from perfect…”

    And there it is: the sting in the tail, coming in the very last sentence of the article! For my money the article would be greatly improved by simply cutting the final sentence.

    Why do even the most enlightened and judicious commentators feel they must include the mandatory criticism of Putin and Russia? The whole thrust of Putin’s speech, with which the writer seems to agree, is that different nations may choose to run their own affairs in different ways, and that is perfectly OK. So why single out “Putin’s conservative statism”? American pseudo-democracy is also far from perfect. So is the constitutional monarchy of the UK, and the savage medieval theocracy of Saudi Arabia and Israel. Why single out Russia, one of the most moderate, civilized and reasonable nations?

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  4. What marknesop said. We know what the goal is: to ensure and expand American domination. DoS strategists analyze various scenarios, and produce various recommendations. We don’t know what they are. I believe it makes much more sense to assume that the current situation is more or less what they wanted to achieve, their best case scenario, or close enough to it. Controlled chaos, divide and rule, and all that.

    Also, what Tom Welsh said. Far from perfect? Compared to what – what alternative? Not an abstract alternative, but a realistic alternative in the actually existing historical, socioeconomic, and geopolitical context?

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  5. Great stuff, Paul. There is much to be said about Putin’s ‘conservative statism’ or however you wish to call it. It may not be coherent or consistent, but a certain discourse/ideology is being voiced from the Kremlin, at least for the foreign audience, that is 1) not commonly voiced by other big players in world politics; 2) may in fact resonate with a segment of the masses in multiple cultural, political etc contexts. Because what he is offering here is a solution to a major moral dilemma that the West hasn’t been able to adequately address. Which is why it’s also important to recall that Realpolitik, which harmonizes w/ ‘conservative statism’, is based on BOTH politics and ethics. The question for me–and I think you have much to say on the subject–is whether any Western, and specifically US, leader could today make such arguments in public. I know people like Kissinger can–he can even say “Putin’s right here”–but they seem to be complete outliers (And this is prima facie odd considering that GOP candidates in the US can say all kinds of other things on foreign policy…).

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  6. A few responses:

    1. I do not believe that the current chaos in the Middle East and Ukraine is the product of deliberate policy. The USA spent nearly a decade and a trillion dollars, and lost several thousand lives, desperately trying to stabilize Iraq after they had previously managed to destabilize it. The fact that they failed wasn’t because they planned to fail, but because the task was beyond them. Similarly, NATO really believed that it was bringing peace, order and good government to Afghanistan. The fact that it helped contribute in some degree to the opposite was not due to malice, but to enormous naivete. Also, the EU didn’t try to bring Ukraine into its orbit because it knew that would cause civil war in Ukraine. It thought it would be good for Ukraine! Again, naivete, not deliberate planning.

    2. As far as the imperfection of Putin’s world view is concerned: the ‘conservative statism’, as I call it because of its focus on strengthening state authority, requires one to turn a blind eye to rulers who are, let us say, not too concerned with human rights and whose abusive behaviour may well be a significant contributor to problems such as terrorism. The fact that it is probably better than the alternative vision promoted by the United States – if only because it is more pragmatic and realistic – doesn`t mean that we shouldn`t recognize its imperfection.

    3. In answer to Srdjan`s question, alas I think that Putin-style arguments are largely limited to `outliers`, especially among conservatives or libertarians – people like Patrick Buchanan and Ron Paul – as well as to some Realist academics. Liberal interventionism is very much the prevailing mood. Will that change? Maybe the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in Britain offers some hope that it will, although he represents a challenge to the existing orthodoxy from a somewhat different direction.

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    1. One should look at key texts, I think.

      Among these, a critical one is the 1996 paper ‘A Clean Break’ prepared for Netanyahu by a group of American neoconservatives, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David and Meyrav Wurmser. They thought that Israel’s security problems could be ameliorated by a Hashemite restoration in Iraq, which could hold the key to eliminating the threat from Hizbullah in south Lebanon.

      If anyone who reads this paper can seriously maintain that its authors had any clear idea of the likely outcomes of the policies they recommended, I am amazed.

      (For the paper, see http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article1438.htm .)

      On the reasons why such demented lunatics have been able to exercise a decisive influence on American Middle East policy, a key text remains the essay on ‘The Israel Lobby’ published in the ‘London Review of Books’ in March 2006 by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

      (See http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby .)

      Another critical document is the 1989 article ‘The End of History’ by Francis Fukuyama. In it, Fukuyama resurrected the interpretation of Hegel by the Russian émigré Stalinist-turned-EEC bureaucrat Alexander Kojève. An excerpt:

      ‘Kojève sought to resurrect the Hegel of the Phenomenology of Mind, the Hegel who proclaimed history to be at an end in 1806. For as early as this Hegel saw in Napoleon’s defeat of the Prussian monarchy at the Battle of Jena the victory of the ideals of the French Revolution, and the imminent universalization of the state incorporating the principles of liberty and equality. Kojève, far from rejecting Hegel in light of the turbulent events of the next century and a half, insisted that the latter had been essentially correct. The Battle of Jena marked the end of history because it was at that point that the vanguard of humanity (a term quite familiar to Marxists) actualized the principles of the French Revolution. While there was considerable work to be done after 1806 – abolishing slavery and the slave trade, extending the franchise to workers, women, blacks, and other racial minorities, etc. – the basic principles of the liberal democratic state could not be improved upon. The two world wars in this century and their attendant revolutions and upheavals simply had the effect of extending those principles spatially, such that the various provinces of human civilization were brought up to the level of its most advanced outposts, and of forcing those societies in Europe and North America at the vanguard of civilization to implement their liberalism more fully.’

      (See http://www.wesjones.com/eoh.htm .)

      If anyone has difficulty believing that people in Washington took this gibberish seriously, I would recommend another trenchant piece by Mearsheimer – the article ‘Imperial by Design’ he published in the ‘National Interest’ back in 2011.

      (See http://mearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/A0059.pdf .)

      Any notion that the actual outcomes of current American – and British – policy have much relationship to the intended outcomes, I am afraid, simply does not mesh with the facts.

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    2. The dig at Putin’s “conservative authoritarianism” does destroy this article – and Paul is unable to defend it in #2 above.
      He should instead apologize.
      The article itself is just a ripoff from several articles in SputnikNews and RT, verboten to quote seriously in “respectable” circles.
      As far as the “conservative authoritarianism” crack goes, it is gratuitous in two ways.
      First, the article is directed at international affairs and then suddenly this remark is inserted on domestic affairs in Russia. That is a giveaway.
      Second, there is no documentation. That is not deemed necessary when digs like this are thrown around, since these are things “everyone knows.” I would like documentation- and not from the silly reports on Russia from the NYT or other govt-managed publications. It is difficult to understand another society, another culture at a distance and without growing up in it. So it is easy for the propagandists to fool us. Enough, Paul.

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      1. Actually, I refer to ‘conservative statism’, which is different. It is a belief in the importance of a strong state (the concept of ‘gosudarstvennost’ – on which I have written elsewhere, e.g. in my posts about Ilyin). This statism can be seen both in a domestic Russian context, and also in international affairs, notably in Putin’s assertion that combatting terrorism requires a strengthening of state authority in countries like Syria. Putin is contrasting what he sees as the importance of supporting states with what he sees as the tendency of the USA to undermine them. I fail to see what is propagandistic about explaining this ideological division.

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      2. “explaining this ideological division”

        The US is not destabilizing their reliable puppets (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), and Russia is not eager to strengthen (for example) the new Ukrainian state.

        Ideology is just a cover, and a highly unconvincing one at that. State’s every action is determined by pragmatic interests, by the cold calculation where ideology plays no part whatsoever. Once the course of action has been chosen, ideological rationalization is put in place.

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  7. “and lost several thousand lives”

    Yeah, such a tremendous sacrifice of the US elites. They suffered greatly, losing their night’s sleep, I’m sure.

    “desperately trying to stabilize Iraq”

    When, how? As I remember, they played the sectarian/ethnic card from the beginning to end. The Shia are oppressed, the Kurds are victims. You don’t stabilize a multiethnic state by relentlessly stirring up sectarian and ethnic resentments.

    I imagine, the game is to install a weak government, facing permanent instability and a slow-burning rebellion (something like today’s Ukraine, incidentally), that simply can’t survive without US support. Not too complicated.

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  8. Yesterday in my speech “Ilyn as innovator (renovator) of international law”
    on the Conference in C.F. of R.F. I Gave this very quotation from Ilyn (1917):
    “A conflict of rights is an argument about law; and an argument about law can only be resolved through the means of legal organization and must be settled on the basis of natural law. Therefore the struggle for international law must be waged precisely not by arms, but through the pathways of international organization; and war’s moral purpose can only have to do with convincing people of the uniqueness and necessity of this path [of law and international organization]. This is why a patriotism nourished by the spirit and having imbibed a normal legal consciousness, cannot view war as the right or just means of fighting for legality. Love for one’s country does not imply seeing in it the only locus of the spirit, because a person who would assert such a thing does not know what the spirit is, nor is he capable of loving the spirit of his own people. There is no person, and there is no nation, who can be the unique locus of the spirit, for the spirit lives in all people and in all nations. To fail to see this is to be morally blind and therefore deprived of both patriotism and legal consciousness. Such a path of spiritual blindness is truly a non-ethical path, one having nothing in common with love for one’s native land; because true patriotism is not a blind but a seeing form of love; and the flight of this love, far from being indifferent to the good and to justice, is itself one of its highest moral achievements.”
    Translated from Russian by Paul Grenier with some help from Prof. Svetlana Grenier.

    and proposed to the audience to compare innovate Ilyn’s ideas with Putin’s
    speech in U.N.O. which should be in three hours later. After Conference
    (it was already 10 p.m.) I listened to it in Facebook and there were many intersections
    as I could foresee them. It was not because Putin used Ilyn’s idea; I am sure
    he does not know this quotation but because of co-called ‘world consciousness’
    (this my own new term: миросознание like Russian правосознание – legal consciousness).
    To-day I heard that Ivan Blot, prime adviser of a previous French President,
    in his commentary of Putin’s Speech used the word ‘innovation’ in Putin’s talk. I did not contact
    with people here in Moscow yet as I had lectures in my University but we shall discuss it
    to-morrow.
    As to my sententious yesterday it was the following: “From Ilyn’s Legal Consciousness
    Doctrine and Personhood Doctrine of Christian orthodox theologies and philosophers one gets
    at once a ‘personhood problem of international law’, i.e., (figure of speech) ‘states and countries
    must be or have to be persons nor individuals’ ”. This is an innovation which is not easy
    to understand and it is connected with another difficult problem of the ‘nature of court power’
    (природой судебной власти). I omit details but to understand personhood problem more clearly
    I read a quotation from Mitropolitan John Zizioulas:

    “Personhood is freedom. In its anthropological significance, as well
    as in its theological significance, personhood is inconceivable
    without freedom; it is the freedom of being other. I hesitate to say
    ‘different’ instead of ‘other’, because ‘different’ can be understood in
    the sense of qualities (clever, beautiful, holy, etc.), which is not what
    the person is about. It is noteworthy that in God all such qualities
    are common to all three persons. Person implies not simply the
    freedom to have different qualities, but mainly the freedom simply to be
    yourself. This means that a person is not subject to norms and
    stereotypes; a person cannot be classified in any way; a person’s
    uniqueness is absolute. This finally means that only a person is free in the
    true sense.
    And yet because, as we have already observed, one person is no
    person, this freedom is not freedom from the other but freedom for
    the other. Freedom thus becomes identical with love.
    God is love because he is Trinity. We can love only if we are persons, that is, if we
    allow the other to be truly other, and yet to be in communion with
    us. If we love the other not only in spite of his or her being different
    from us but because he or she is different from us, or rather other than
    ourselves, we live in freedom as love and in love as freedom”.
    (John D. Zizioulas, “Community and Otherness. Further Studies in Personhood and the Church”,
    NY, 2006, p. 9-10.)

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    1. Another excellent quote at the end there, Yury. Your comment brings a couple of thoughts to my mind:

      1. The idea that states should be considered persons is very much against the trend in Western thinking, which has increasingly insisted that state sovereignty derives from the individual people making up that state. States as such have no rights, which is why one may intervene in the affairs of those who are said to abuse their people.
      2. The linking of personhood to difference, and the right of each person `simply to be yourself’, as expressed here, in some respects strongly resembles classical liberalism. The rejection of that position reveals how far some Western liberals have travelled from the intellectual roots of their belief system.

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  9. Something that continually bugged me is the following concept:

    Could it be that “Naive western well-wishers” or “WEIRDs” are actually the demographic that is not only least suited to be subjects of sociological expirements, but also the demographic most ill suited to intervene productively in a foreign conflict?

    Please bear me out, first, let us establish what is probably a way to constructively intervene somewhere else. You summon all important power players in that region (perhaps you could exclude one player whom everyone is supposed to hate, like ISIS in Syria), and make them come to some kind of mutally acceptable compromise and then threaten that any violation of that compromise will make you take the side of whoever did not violate it. Assuming that the orginally negotiated compromise reflects the situation on the ground, this would in theory allow for tempers to cool and for long term solutions to be encouraged.

    Of course, in order to have a “benevolent western nation” intervene in the first place, someone has to be painted as the “newest Hitler”, his opponents (who in practice may only be “less Hitler” because they are weaker) become the “new democratic heroes” and any hope of a compromise flies out of the window and into the cementary.

    What you then get is a “partisan intervention”, also known as “randomly pick someone and try to either make this someone win, or everyone else lose”. These partisan intervention basically never achieve their goals. What happens is that, because the entire “X is the new hitler” isnt exactly unheard by said “X”, X then engages in the (pragmatically speaking) completely sensible course of crushing the “someone” the west picked as a victor, and may actually suceed in forestalling any western intervention because plan A is dead, and nobody got a budged to figure out plan B. This is basically what happened in Bosnia. There was the Lisbon agreement between Bosnian, Serbs and Croats which could have prevented the civil war, it was basically signed by all parties, then the Bosnian president had some “one on one time” with the US envoy and proceeded to break the agreement. The Bosnian Serbs had absolutly no interest in waiting for the US army to turn up, and proceeded to create “facts on the ground” as “decisivly” as they could.

    I am not exactly pro Serbian, but the Bosnian theatre of the Yugoslav dissolution wars was the one such theatre that the Serbs didnt fully lose. Yay US meddling I guess.

    If the “someone” the US decided to be the winner actually is powerfull, you get another dynamic. Said “someone” beliefs that the US airforce is only a moment away from bombing his opponents into tiny little pieces, and thus goes out of his way to demand the most maximalist terms possible from his domestic opponents. If these opponents refuse, the “someone” does his best to basically sick the US air force on them, and failing that he arrives hat in hand in Washington demanding military aid. This is basically what happened in Ukraine.

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