There has been talk among some geopolitical analysts over the past few months about the latest article by former National Security Adviser (under President Carter), Zbigniew Brzezinski. As some readers may recall from my past writings on Zbig, he was supposed to be the Democratic Party’s answer to Henry Kissinger – i.e. a psychopath who added a pseudo-intellectual veneer to his imperial war crimes by writing books and journal articles in which he pontificated on grand chessboards and other clever literary devices used to render the deaths of millions and the destruction of whole societies resulting from his policies as mere abstractions. The human effects were deserving of little thought as he shuttled among writing sessions, high powered meetings in which lives were rearranged, and conferences where he got feted by various Washington sycophants.
The article is called “Toward a Global Realignment” and was published this past April in The American Interest. Zbig sets the tone in his opening paragraph by declaring:
Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signalling the coming of a new global realignment.
First of all, Zbig uses an interesting choice of words. Verities. The dictionary definition of this high-falutin term is:
I shall return to the irony inherent in Zbig’s use of this term in a moment.
According to Zbig’s article, Verity #1 is that the U.S. is still the most powerful “entity” in the world politically, economically and militarily. But he acknowledges it is no longer the global imperial power – or the lone superpower. However, no other major power (here he implicitly acknowledges that there exist a few others) is a global imperial or lone superpower either.
This is, indeed, a significant admission by Zbig – one that implies a more chastened outlook with respect to the U.S.’s penchant for acting like a bull in a China shop in the rest of the world since 1945 and, particularly, since the end of the Cold War when Zbig’s ambitions for American hegemony seemed to be fueled by the equivalent of an eternal supply of cocaine and Viagra.
Verity #3 acknowledges China’s steady rise on its way to being a “co-equal” and a potential rival with the U.S.:
…for the time being it [China] is careful not to pose an outright challenge to America. Militarily, it seems to be seeking a breakthrough in a new generation of weapons while patiently enhancing its still very limited naval power.
Fair enough. But its Verities #2, 4, and 5 that are problematic and reveal Zbig’s deep-rooted prejudices and analytical blind spots.
Verity #2 postulates that Russia is in the final “convulsive” phase of its imperial devolution. It’s unclear what this even means as the imperial devolution was pretty much completed when Gorbachev voluntarily withdrew Soviet forces from Eastern Europe and allowed the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Subsequently, Russia was plundered by a handful of elite bureaucrats who became the original oligarchs – as the blueprints for that plunder were largely provided by the ivy league “advisers” from the U.S., as detailed by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine and Janine Wedel in The Nation magazine. Russia was on the verge of being a failed state when Vladimir Putin took over the presidency in 2000.
Russia is always portrayed by Zbig as a menacing threat that is uniquely evil and malicious, such as when it manages to get back onto its feet and dust itself off as it has done gradually under Putin’s leadership, or as a potential one as Zbig feared in The Grand Chessboard , his ode to American imperialism published in 1997, when Russia was on its back and down for the count.
Zbig seems to be incapable of trying to understand Russia on its own terms – what the world, shaped by its unique geography and history, may look like to Russians and how that may contribute rationally to their actions and policy preferences. An analyst doesn’t have to like or agree with the Russian mindset or policy, but a competent geopolitical analyst who specializes in Eurasia (much less one who fancies himself a great one as Zbig does) should be able to do this as it would add valuable insight and provide for more accurate predictions of Russia’s behavior.
Other than grasping that Eurasia is an important area of the world in terms of geography and resources, Zbig has done a rather poor job of predicting the dynamics that appear to be playing out in the past few years in the region. His tired misrepresentations of Russia’s actions in relation to its neighbors over the past 8 years makes one wonder if Zbig has ceased to simply be a purveyor of propaganda on behalf of his own agenda, and has actually started to believe his own hogwash. As a case in point, Zbig states the following in his second verity:
…currently it [Russia] is pointlessly alienating some of its former subjects in the Islamic southwest of its once extensive empire, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, not to mention the Baltic States.
I’ve written extensively on Zbig’s lies and misrepresentations with respect to both the Ukraine crisis and the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. Zbig doesn’t explain how Russia is alienating Belarus. And it’s also unclear what credible designs Russia could have on the Baltic states, which – no offense to anyone living in the Baltic states – are suffering from poor economic performance, high rates of youth unemployment, significant emigration and have no real resources to speak of.
Later in the article, Zbig makes another nonsensical statement with respect to Russia and Putin:
A constructive U.S. policy must be patiently guided by a long-range vision. It must seek outcomes that promote the gradual realization in Russia (probably post-Putin) that its only place as an influential world power is ultimately within Europe.
First of all, Putin has stated that Russia is a European nation. He has also made many attempts to reach a diplomatic accommodation with Europe in connection with both security and economic issues. It is Europe, often under pressure from Washington, that effectively tells Putin to talk to the hand. If it wasn’t for Washington’s strong-arming the EU into the sanctions in retaliation for an understandable response to a provocative coup in Ukraine, Russia’s economic relations with Europe would have continued apace and its pivot to Asia would not have been as quick or robust.
Furthermore, given Zbig’s notorious Russophobia and his Grand Chessboard theory, it is implausible that he wants to see a Russia integrated with Europe in any substantive way because it would represent an independent entity that would be too competitive with the U.S.
Zbig also repeats a belief often heard among mainstream analysts that China and Russia will not be able to have any effective partnership in the long run due to China’s potential future designs on Russian territory:
Russia’s own future depends on its ability to become a major and influential nation-state that is part of a unifying Europe. Not to do so could have dramatically negative consequences for Russia’s ability to withstand growing territorial-demographic pressure from China, which is increasingly inclined as its power grows to recall the “unequal” treaties Moscow imposed on Beijing in times past.
There is no substantive evidence that China would do anything of the sort in connection with Russia – a nuclear superpower and, as Obama begrudgingly admitted recently, the world’s second most powerful military. There is simply no reason to believe that China’s leadership is that stupid or crazy.
Of course, Russia and China (and also India) want a prominent role in their own backyard. I see no reason to believe that there may not be bumps in the road in sorting out the regional balance of power in the future. However, just because Washington sees foreign relations as a zero-sum game, does not mean that other countries and their leadership see it the same way.
As journalist and geopolitical analyst Pepe Escobar has written about extensively, China has an ambitious plan known as “One Belt, One Road” which envisions a new silk road by land and sea, connecting Asia with Europe in a mutually beneficial program of trade and travel. Several corridors of this project are in progress. It has been announced this year that the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, aka EEU) will work cooperatively with the New Silk Road project.
Oil also features prominently in the increasingly symbiotic dynamics between the two countries. As Tao Wang explained recently at the East Asia Forum:
The catalyst for better relations was the crisis in Ukraine, which estranged Russia from the West. Moscow faced substantial capital outflows and uncertainty around its energy exports to the European Union. China became the only option. Moscow has since opened up to energy investment from China, removing a number of key restrictions on investing in oil and gas resources on Russian soil.
Increasing oil imports from Russia seems to make good sense to the Chinese leadership now that their territorial dispute with multiple countries in the South China Sea is intensifying.
….China and Russia are still complementary economies. One is rich in resources and high military technology, while the other is good at mass manufacturing and rich in cash. This complementarity is well demonstrated by their partnership in Central Asia, where China provides investment in resource-rich yet unpredictable countries while Russia ensures the stability of ruling regimes. Facing increasing pressure from both east and west, it is unlikely that either China or Russia will seek to change this partnership any time soon, though the countries’ willingness and ability may not always match.
….Energy ties between China and Russia reflect mutual demands for cooperation in political, security and economic dimensions. They cannot be viewed as driven by only one of them.
While China will likely do what it can diplomatically to avoid outright provocation or confrontation with Washington, it is unlikely it will trust Washington enough to believe there is any chance for a meaningful partnership as the Chinese leadership have, no doubt, taken note of Washington’s unwillingness to abide by its agreements (see the Native Americans, Russia, and Qaddafi as a few examples). Zbig’s idea that Washington could somehow implement a divide-and-conquer strategy with China against Russia is a pipe dream. The train has left the station in terms of Eurasia largely controlling its own destiny in the future and Zbig seems to be in denial.
Moving on to Verity #4. This states that Europe is “not now and is not likely to become a global power. But it can play a constructive role in taking the lead in regard to transnational threats to global wellbeing and even human survival. Additionally, Europe is politically and culturally aligned with and supportive of core U.S. interests in the Middle East, and European steadfastness within NATO is essential to an eventually constructive resolution of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.”
In other words, Europe can continue to follow Washington’s orders whether those orders are really in Europe’s long-term interests or not. And it is not at all clear that they are. Europe has too often gone along with, or not put up enough resistance to, Washington’s militarist foreign policy since the 1990’s. Today it is dealing with the worst refugee crisis since WWII – a refugee crisis that is largely the result of people fleeing Washington’s wars and regime change operations. A recent Pew survey found that most Europeans do not view Russia as a threat, but instead view the immigration crisis and economic problems as major threats.
If it wasn’t for EU leaders who kowtow to Washington policy and mainstream European media that largely follows the lead of the American corporate media, average Europeans may very well recognize that they have more in common culturally, historically and geographically with their next door neighbor to the east than they have with the descendants of the Puritan misfits half a world away. Indeed, in order to prevent an independent Europe that might decide that its rational interests were not always identical to Washington’s, the EU project was supported and encouraged by the CIA and the Euro was the brainchild of academic Robert Mundell who created it, not to help Europe, but to serve as a foil on government regulation of business and independent monetary or fiscal policy.
In order to understand where one is going, it’s important to understand where one has been and how it got to where it is presently. Needless to say, the reader doesn’t get any of this contextual background from Zbig on why Europe’s prospects for becoming an independent global power don’t look too impressive at the moment.
Verity #5 states that the current strain of Islamic terrorism by Wahhabi whackjobs represents a “political awakening” – albeit violent – in reaction to historical brutal repressions by the western powers. Again, some history is in order here. Zbig has always had a soft spot for violent Islamic fundamentalists as he famously bragged in a 1998 interview about using them to provoke the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 so he could “give them their own Vietnam” quagmire.
Zbig also landed by helicopter in Afghanistan that year to give the jihadists a pep talk in their war against the Soviet Union – a war that led to the deaths of approximately a million Afghan civilians and turned a nation that had rights for women and little religious fanaticism into a Taliban stronghold.
All in a day’s work for Zbig who will then write articles feigning concern for Muslims and their genuine historical grievances when he really just sees them as pawns on The Chessboard to use to further American empire or to maintain what is left of it – and all the more gratifying if they can be used to stick it to Russia in some way.
Given Zbig’s continued vilification of Russia and self-serving dishonesty, weariness is in order on his latest effort.