B12 Solipsism

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Russia and the US

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David Remnick writes a brief essay re: the history of the collapse of Soviet Union, and makes this point:

Taken individually, the West’s actions since the collapse of the Soviet Union—from the inclusion of the Baltic and the Central European states in NATO to the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state—can be rationalized on strategic and moral grounds. But taken together these actions were bound to engender deep-seated feelings of national resentment among Russians, especially as, through the nineteen-nineties, they suffered an unprecedentedly rapid downward spiral. Even ordinary Russians find it mightily trying to be lectured on questions of sovereignty and moral diplomacy by the West, particularly the United States, which, even before Iraq, had a long history of foreign intervention, overt and covert—politics by other means. After the exposure of the Bush Administration’s behavior prior to the invasion of Iraq and its unapologetic use of torture, why would any leader, much less Putin, respond to moral suasion from Washington? That is America’s tragedy, and the world’s.

There is little doubt that the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, provided Putin with his long-awaited casus belli when he ordered the shelling of South Ossetia, on August 7th. But Putin’s war, of course, is not about the splendors of South Ossetia, a duchy run by the Russian secret service and criminal gangs. It is a war of demonstration. Putin is demonstrating that he is willing to use force; that he is unwilling to let Georgia and Ukraine enter NATO without exacting a severe price; and that he views the United States as hypocritical, overextended, distracted, and reluctant to make good on its protective assurances to the likes of Georgia.

[From David Remnick – Boundary Issues: Comment: The New Yorker]

Thanks, George Bush and the Republican Party, for squandering any possibilities of moral suasion. Not that the United States has ever had much moral suasion to spare, but even less so since the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan on minor pretext.

Soviets Lithuania

And I like this Bishop Joseph Butler quote, I’m adding it to my pantheon of pithy epigrams:

Inevitably, a number of neoconservative commentators, along with John McCain, have rushed in to analyze this conflict using familiar analogies: the Nazi threat in the late nineteen-thirties; the Soviet invasions of Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. But while Putin’s actions this past week have inspired genuine alarm in Kiev and beyond, such analogies can lead to heedless policy. As the English theologian Bishop Joseph Butler wrote, “Every thing is what it is, and not another thing.” Cartoonish rhetoric only contributes to the dangerous return of what some conservatives seem to crave—the other, the enemy, the us versus them of the Cold War.

Only one with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the spectacle of the leaders of Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states standing by Saakashvili last week at a rally in Tbilisi. But Putin is not Hitler or Stalin; he is not even Leonid Brezhnev. He is what he is, and that is bad enough. In the 2008 election, he made a joke of democratic procedure and, in effect, engineered for himself an anti-constitutional third term. The press, the parliament, the judiciary, the business élite are all in his pocket—and there is no opposition. But Putin also knows that Russia cannot bear the cost of reconstituting empire or the gulag. It depends on the West as a market. One lesson of the Soviet experience is that isolation ends in poverty. Putin’s is a new and subtler game: he is the autocrat who calls on the widow of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. To deal with him will require statecraft of a kind that has proved well beyond the capacities of our current practitioners.

Written by Seth Anderson

August 21st, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Posted in News-esque

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  1. […] });Footnotes: thanks to Bishop Joseph Butler [↩]though the full quote is “Every thing is what it is, and not another thing.” […]

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