In 1989 the US was supreme. Victorious, incomparably powerful and, for the most part, adored and admired.
Had it honoured its subsequent promises to Russia, kept its nose clean in the Middle East and tried to genuinely broker a settlement between Israel and Palestine, those accolades would still hold. Instead it’s riven internally, distrusted externally and burdened with a strategically incoherent and increasingly belligerent foreign policy.
It’s a sad tale, indeed a tragic one, not just for America but for the world. Rarely has so much been thrown away so quickly.
In “Ukraine, MH17 and the Struggle for Europe“, Alistair Crooke looks at how all this is playing out in the troubled relationship between the US and Germany. After more than a half-century of almost intimate relations, they now stand on the brink. The spying revelations have done serious damage.
Germans, who acutely remember the totalitarian surveillance of Nazi Germany and East Germany, cherish their strict data protection and limits on state monitoring. The pervasive spying on one of America’s most valuable partners — including the snooping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone from a rooftop listening post at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin — has enraged the German public.
Even more important though is the growing sense that the US has become an alarmingly, perhaps even dangerously unpredictable partner.
It is not surprising that Europeans ask to where will escalating sanctions take us? What is the end game? Sanctions will hollow out the significant European trade with Russia, and will leave European economies open and vulnerable to US commercial interests. That the American establishment sees sanctions as an end itself – sees ‘breaking’ and humiliating Putin – as an end in itself is a truly frightening prospect.
Crooke quotes Immanuel Wallerstein, the elderly American academic whose brief article in mid-July served as the catalyst for his own.
The basic problem is that the United States is, and has been for some time, in geopolitical decline. It doesn’t like this. It doesn’t really accept this. It surely doesn’t know how to handle it, that is, minimize the losses to the United States. So it keeps trying to restore what is unrestorable – U.S. “leadership” (read: hegemony) in the world-system. This makes the United States a very dangerous actor. No small number of political agents in the United States are calling for some sort of decisive “action” – whatever that could possibly mean. And U.S. elections may depend in large part on how U.S. political actors play this game.
That is what Europeans in general, and now Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in particular, are realizing. The United States has become a very unreliable “partner.” So even those in Germany and elsewhere in Europe who are nostalgic for the warm embrace of the “free world” are reluctantly joining the less nostalgic others in deciding how they can survive geopolitically without the United States. And this is pushing them into the logical alternative, a European tent that includes Russia.
As the Germans, and the Europeans in general, move inexorably in this direction, they have their hesitations. If they can no longer trust the United States, could they really trust Russia? And, more importantly, could they make a deal with the Russians that the Russians would find it worthwhile and necessary to observe? You can bet that this is what is being discussed in the inner circles of the German government today, and not how to repair the irreparable breach of trust with the United States.
Wallerstein wrote this before MH17. Since then, the dynamics have radically altered with Russia now clearly on the defensive. Still, in its own (so far) quiet fashion, Russia is pushing back against the torrent of criticism. Crooke sees these efforts as part of a long-term strategy.
So what is the point of this Russian effort to get the facts out – if, inevitably, the media will rubbish them – unless they conform to fixed preconceptions? The answer is that the battle for the facts is the struggle for the confidence of the German leadership (as well as some other Europeans, including France, Italy and Austria). Russia has conveyed privately all of its evidence to Europe. Will Kerry’s ploy succeed in eviscerating all German options – other than that of having to follow America’s lead? Time will tell. But, if it transpires that the US is perceived as having stovepiped Europe into level-3 sanctions and to the brink of conflict with Russia on flimsy circumstantial evidence1, this will weigh heavily with a German leadership that – as Wallerstein already noted – sees the US now as dangerously unguided and incoherent in its foreign policy.
Whatever the reasons, through its vehemence the US is making this issue pivotal. Unless they temper their course soon, it is in effect a bust or bust through strategy. It’s forcing decisions on Germany (and not only Germany) that none really wishes to take. No doubt they pine for the good old days (about six months ago) when it was possible to be friends with both the US and Russia. No more, it seems.