Stuck in a Cul-De-Sac, With No Way Out. Half-Speed Ahead.

In my latest piece for RT (which you can read here), I discuss the chaos that is American policy towards Russia. First, US president Joe Biden phones Vladimir Putin and suggests that they normalize relations and hold a summit. Then he slaps a bunch of new sanctions on Russia and expels 10 Russian diplomats. Meanwhile, in other news, 2 US warships headed towards the Black Sea, and then turned around and said that they weren’t going to go the Black Sea after all. In other words, a picture of total foreign policy confusion.

To my mind, the phone call and summit offer were something of a blip in American policy, brought upon by a sense of alarm at the possibility of war between Russia and Ukraine. This induced the Americans to try and row back a bit. The problem is that the current in the other direction is just too strong, and so they ended up even further downstream than before.

In any case, I’m not sure that the Americans actually know how to change directions. Take a look at their policies towards Cuba and Iran – they’ve been sanctioning them for decades. It hasn’t made those countries more friendly, but they keep on at it. The policy is a complete dead end, but it’s like America is a massive 18-wheeler that has entered a narrow cul-de-sac and just doesn’t have the maneuverability to get out again. All it can do is keep trying to ram through whatever is blocking the way out, smashing itself (and the obstacle) up in the process, but not getting anywhere.

By now, you’d have thought that they’d have learnt not to keep driving into cul-de-sacs. But, for some reason they keep on doing it (Venezuela is another one). It seems like there’s no learning process.

Other than backing out, the18-wheeler has only chance to escape – when it first enters the cul-de-sac, and still has forward momentum. That’s the moment when the driver needs to step on the gas and smash through the obstacle. After that, occasional little shoves from a standing start won’t do the trick, especially if somebody is busily strengthening the obstacle all the time.

It’s the same with sanctions. Academic studies suggest that if they are to succeed in coercing the targeted party, they need to be fairly comprehensive and immediate – that’s to say, you need to do a lot and do it all at once. Gradual incrementalism is doomed to failure. The target adapts and is often one step ahead, limiting his vulnerability long before you hit him.

So it is with American sanctions against Russia. The latest round will have very limited practical effect. But bit by bit, the sanctions are having the effect of cutting Russia off from America. As that happens, America loses whatever leverage it had at the start. That in turn means that each successive round of sanctions has less prospects of causing real damage than the last.

In short, it’s a dead-end, and no amount of effort to bash through the obstacle is going to work. Sooner or later, the 18-wheeler will have to back out. Judging by past experience, later is more likely than sooner. The danger is that it may be so late that by then the vehicle will have fallen entirely apart. At that point, its only hope will be that a nice new Chinese tow-truck comes along and rescues it.

21 thoughts on “Stuck in a Cul-De-Sac, With No Way Out. Half-Speed Ahead.”

  1. There are two things one can say about this:

    The first is that sanctions may be something of a boon. Rhodesia used the sanctions to build up quite an extensive industry (which they had to scrap when they were let into civilized society as Zimbabwe and had to let international competition do its job). But industry is definitely something good to have. Economist Eric S. Reinert uses to (tongue in cheek) advise countries to get sanctioned to get an opportunity to modernize their economies.

    The second is that there is too much moralizing in the American culture. An inheritance from the puritan ancestors, probably. If the American public is used to have somebody published repeatedly as a “bad guy” it won’t let him avoid punishment. So I suppose no president dares to challenge this. The public would think him “soft”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If the American public is used to have somebody published repeatedly as a “bad guy” it won’t let him avoid punishment. So I suppose no president dares to challenge this. The public would think him “soft”.

      Yes. We may live in a new media age. But still to a large extent on a multitude of issues whatever produces the ‘spiral of silence’ or it’s opposite the bubbles still exists and is driving politics.

      The new media age works well in marketing, the first to discover it, but how could it ever work in forming ‘Consensus decision-making’?

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      1. Ok, was struggling with the appropriate juxtaposition.
        Bubbles doesn’t neatly fit. Marketing always dissected into addressable subgroups.

        I may not ever have paid attention to the spiral of silence, not even aware of it, but if you ever encounter it within whatever a real limited space you’ll understand the concept.

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  2. 1. In RT article, paragraph starting with “As a result, Western media and politicians…” is repeated twice.

    2. Given that the sanctions, again and again, fail to produce any “change in behavior” in target countries proves that “change in behavior” is not the primary desired/expected result. Moreover, the history of Jackson–Vanik amendment proves that even a truly massive change in behavior WILL NOT MAKE THE SANCTIONS GO AWAY.

    3. Proximate goal of US sanctions against the USSR, and then against Russia, was/is to cripple the economy. The long-term goal is to weaken the country&break it into bite-size pieces. It’s arguable whether this strategy worked with USSR, but the US is convinced that it did, so it’s doing it again.

    4. It’s becoming exceedingly clear that the only way for Russia to make the US cut it with the stupid sanctions is to push back very, very aggressively. The sanctions are an ouvert attack on Russian economy. Thus, the only way to push back is an ouvert counterattack, entailing comparable damage, by whatever means necessary. This strategy worked in 1962, we can make it work again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As you conclude in the RT piece “The only question is how long it will take the Americans to realize it.”

    Well, that is indeed the question, isn’t it? So, let’s start with +/- 20 years, being our current best estimate benchmark from Afghanistan and Iraq.

    So, since heavy sanctions date back to around 2014, putting us +/- 2034 for at least elements of the US foreign policy establishment beginning to suspect all is not well. (If you postdate sanctions to more like 2008, that would suggest we’ll see a first dawning around 2028, so just around the corner.

    Stay wewll, everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let me quote a recent piece in National Interest: “Russia has been invaded in the course of history not only by France and Germany, but by Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles, and Teutonic knights. It will always be an insecure and nervous power, given to aggression”.

      Well, how long do you think it will take people who can from “Russia has been a constant target of European aggression for centuries” arrive at “Russia is a constant aggressor” (with no intermediate corollaries or middle terms, mind you), to realize that sanctions don’t quite work? 20 years? I think that’s entirely too optimistic.

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  4. In understanding US foreign “policies” and what to do about them this post by Doctorow is very helpful:

    “First, that the political, meaning diplomatic, channels between the countries are virtually useless at present. On the U.S. side they are manned by determined fools, among whom I include our brilliantly dressed and superficially eloquent Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. If Russia were to follow its interests to the logical conclusion, they would now recall the rest of their staff at their Washington Embassy and order the U.S. embassy in Moscow to shut down. Daily communications between Russian General Gerasimov and his counterparts in the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington are the best way to keep the peace. These chaps alone can both walk and chew gum. These chaps alone understand who is who and what is what in projection of military force.

    Second, there is absolutely no sense to convene a U.S.-Russia summit at present or in the foreseeable future. It will resolve nothing.”
    https://gilbertdoctorow.com/2021/04/16/bombast-from-washington-joe-bidens-russia-sanctions/

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    1. These chaps alone can both walk and chew gum. These chaps alone understand who is who and what is what in projection of military force.

      Yes, I thought that for a while too. I wish I still would. By now I am not sure. Would the “right” (considered as such) type of leader and the appropriate type of Patriot cheerleading chest drumming even allow such exchanges in the US of A and Russia? 9/11 surely helped to create the necessary collective unity to confront minor declared enemies.

      Consider the military leader in the US of A is appointed too. With the foot folks necessarily falling into line.

      But I have to admit, haven’t checked Doctorow for quite a while. …

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      1. I wonder why RT dropped Sleboda….he used to be up to sometime last year a constant on crosstalk

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      2. Behind the scene intrigue, perhaps having to do with some personality clashes along, with possible differences of opinion.

        Russia Insider was once in with the in crowd. The Duran duo haven’t been on RT for awhile.

        Others with great insigh have yet to be given an opportunity.

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      3. Another Sleboda sighting:

        He takes an appropriate shot at Felgenhauer and (indirectly) at Al Jazeera which has (in recent Russia related shows) dropped the former in favor of the latter

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  5. @Mikhail
    Russian Insider seems to be defunct or on hold when I looked it up the last time about a year ago . I stopped listing it in my bookmarks after they turned anti semitic and Hitler worshipping – that is not an exaggeration.
    As to Aljazeera – I found their Russophobia at the level of the Deutsche Welle.
    I have seen Sleboda a few time on CGTN.
    I liked to hear his cogent arguments and they sometimes were counter to contentions voiced by Peter…
    Mercouris appears fairly regularly on Crosstalk, but Alex Christoforou seems absent.

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    1. RI is still active albeit not as much as before:

      https://russia-insider.com/en

      Keep in mind that RI was once linked at this blog unlike the Strategic Culture Foundation and my Eurasia Review column.

      There were signs that RI had an anti-Jewish lean before the much ballyhooed “Jew Taboo” article, which in reality offered nothing especially new while having some inaccuracies. As a comparison, Alfred Lilienthal’s “Zionist Connection” book (original edition in the late 1970s) gives a more scholarly accounting.

      The aforementioned “Jew Taboo” piece gave RI immediate enhanced attention, followed by a downward spiral along the lines of what would happen to the Kiev regime, if it attacked the Donbass rebels.

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    2. Since Peter Lavelle’s YouTube “Gaggle” hookup with George Szamuely, I haven’t seen Mercouris or Christoforou on RT. During this period, The Duran venue has been regularly running insightful Russia related commentary.

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  6. Look, Paul, there’s no surprise here. The US reaction and interaction on this Ukraine adventure is amateurish. It showcases the total zero of US/UK intelligence and its filters into policy. Apart from spending consultancy money with abandon, and throwing money at obsolete weapons transfer (the US school bus as part of a military transfer is just jarring), the US policy and actions are childish. It boggles the mind that my Canada, and the rest of Europe (of course, the obtuse and obsequous UK MI6 will gladly suck the US whatever) continue the NATO folly. We are currently in a pure commercial fight, one where the west is severely and ridiculously outmatched by a huge China and supremely flexible Russia. Within the tremors of the Covid crisis, China already shines as the stable one. This will continue and only strengthen. Russia is realizing its needed identity and is re-shaping as flexible, intelligent and amenible when needed. Our Canada, unfortunately, is still making up its mind and is unlikely to recognize the global trend to the Eurasian pre-eminence.

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