Long-time readers of the Gormogons’ will be familiar with the Volgi’s Fallacy of Foreign-Policy Egocentrism. This states, more or less, “it’s not all about us.”
Which is a short way of saying that, because states determine their own interests and there is comparatively little we can do to affect that calculation, to believe that conflicts of interests are avoidable by changing one’s behavior or tone is a species of magical thinking. Closely related is the cherished liberal belief that foreign-policy problems come down to misunderstandings.
Liberals like this idea because liberals tend to be good at talking and rationalizing, and if all problems can be resolved through talking and rationalization then liberals have literally all the answers. Plus this obviates the need for things Liberals don’t like, like, say, defense spending.
President Obama’s tendencies in this direction have long been clear, if you’ll remember the letters he wrote to various world leaders early on, assuring them that he was a guy they could work, with unlike the previous foolish irrational incumbent. You may recall Confucius had a series of posts about these letters in which he invoked that timeworn principle of foreign policy that the appearance of weakness invites aggression.
Recently these same tendencies are again evidence, given the Administration’s implications that “President Putin” has found himself somehow up a tree and needs an “exit ramp” or a way to climb down from these difficulties that he’s accidentally created. Not only does this make Obama—and us—look contemptibly weak in the eyes of Putin and his ilk, But it raises the specter that the administration is clinging to their beliefs of how the world should be rather than the way it is. Delusion is not a sound basis for statesmanship.
So what’s in the news today? President Obama condescends to explain and rationalize to Putin that the latter’s characterization of the West’s encircling Russia is…all together…a misunderstanding. To his credit, he seems awfully halfhearted about it, though it’s hard to tell whether that’s because he knows it’s useless and silly or simply because he’s a melancholic character and this really doesn’t engage him.
Allowing for the fact that Obama may be lying to appear charitable or diplomatic, on its face this is an almost childish misreading of the fact that a gangster regime like Putin’s is naturally threatened by responsive, law-based, democratic, open societies surrounding it. They are a constant school of example for the Russian people that they do not have to live under murderous KGB kleptocrats. We should want Putin to feel threatened—threatened and impotent—and ultimately fail in his ambitions.
The best-case scenario for a Putin type was always as a Chiang Kai-Shek or Lee Kew Kwan—a dictator overseeing an internally liberalizing, increasingly law-based polity. But that hope has been defunct for a long time, if it ever obtained, given Putin’s Chekist nostalgia for the prison-state of the U.S.S.R., in which his Chekist family throve, and his willingness to murder his way to power ab initio.
In addition, it is a mark of Faculty Lounge Man, of which Obama is an exemplar, to believe simultaneously that the West’s preëminence is the distorting, disharmonious element in human history and that all problems can be solved by hyperrationalist, profoundly Western institutions like Davos, the U.N., and all the other multilateral talking shops they love. He acknowledges that Putin feels aggrieved by the loss of the Soviet Union but his recommendation seems to be that Putin act more like Belgium or Luxembourg and engage the West on the West’s terms, when, of course, Putin’s answer is to reject the West, full stop, in tune with six hundred or so years of Russian ideology (often paranoiac and delusional itself) about their unique greatness thwarted only by their circling enemies.
Russia is one of the world’s preëminent low-trust societies, and that goes triple for its conduct in international affairs. To truly change Russian perceptions would be a (possibly Quixotic) project of decades, during which their ambitions in what they chauvinistically call “the near abroad” must be checked, if those regions—and ultimately Russia—are to be brought into a responsible world community the likes of which Obama speaks (and which he must know on some level is a profoundly, uniquely Western idea unimaginable in the absence of a hegemonic power committed to such self-limiting principles).
(It is, however, refreshing to see Obama acknowledge that the Russian troops massing on the border might be the pre-staging of an invasion, not that his words or, as far as has been made public, his actions elsewhere yet seem to rise to the level of helping Ukraine make that a dicey gamble for the Russians.)
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.