Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Russia is not the enemy

By Stephen Kinzer, a former senior reporter for the NYT.  He is known for anti-interventionism -- which is a Leftist version of conservative isolationism.  Interesting how the same policy can be either Leftist or Rightist.  I think he is broadly right below.  America really has no beef with Putin. As a Leftist, Kinzer does not name the real enemy but, ever since 9/11, it is clear that the enemy is fundamentalist Islam, particularly in the shape of Iran.  "Death to America" surely needs no interpretation. And Obama has just let them back onto the highroad towards nuclear weapons.

Real enemies are a threat to any country, but imagined enemies can be even more dangerous. They sap resources, provoke needless conflicts, and divert attention from true challenges. The United States has constructed such a fantasy by turning Russia into an enemy.

Our current campaign against Russia was set off by what some in Washington call its “aggression” against neighboring Ukraine. Russia’s decision to aid the Assad regime in Syria has also angered us. The true reasons for anti-Russia sentiment, though, lie deeper.

Most leading figures in the American political and security establishments grew up during the Cold War. They spent much of their lives believing that the Antichrist lived in Moscow. Today they speak as if the Cold War never ended.

For a brief period in the 1990s, it appeared that Russia had lost control over its own security. Stunned into paralysis by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and without any power to resist, Russians had to watch helplessly as NATO, their longtime enemy, established bases directly on their borders. Many in Washington believed that the United States had permanently broken Russian power. In their jubilation, they imagined that we would be able to keep our foot on Russia’s neck forever.

That was highly unrealistic. By pressing our advantage too strongly in the years after the Cold War, we guaranteed a nationalist reaction. President Vladimir Putin embodies it. He is popular in Russia because his people believe he is trying to claw back some of Russia’s lost power. For the same reason, he is demonized in Washington.

Having Russia as an enemy is strangely comforting to Americans. It reassures us that the world has not really changed. That means we do not have to change our policies. Our back-to-the-future hostility toward Russia allows us to pull out our dusty Cold War playbook. We have resurrected not just that era’s anti-Moscow policies but also the hostile rhetoric that accompanied them.

This summer’s most extreme exaggeration of Russia’s power came not from an inveterate Cold Warrior like John McCain or Hillary Clinton, but from the new chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford. At his Senate confirmation hearing in July, Dunford said Russia “could pose an existential threat to the United States.” He suggested that, to defend ourselves, we should send aid to Ukrainians who want to fight Russia.

Statements like these are bizarre on several levels. First, Russia is a fundamentally weak country with a tottering economy. It is far from being able to compete with the United States, much less threaten it. Second, Russia is surrounded by American military bases, hears threats from the West every day, faces NATO guns on its borders, and therefore has reason to fear for its security. Third, by pushing Russia away, we are driving it toward China, thereby encouraging a partnership that could develop into a true threat to American power.

The most important reason it is folly to turn Russia into an enemy is more far-reaching than any of these. Europe remains stable only when all of its major countries are included in the process of governing, and each one’s security concerns are taken seriously.

The visionary Prince Metternich grasped this truth 200 years ago. Metternich was foreign minister of the Austrian Empire and mastermind of the Congress of Vienna, which was charged with reconstructing Europe after nearly a quarter-century of war. France was the villain. French armies under Napoleon had ravaged much of Europe. Anti-French sentiment was widespread and virulent. Delegates to the Congress of Vienna demanded harsh punishment for the troublemaker. Metternich resisted their pressure. He persuaded other leaders that in the interest of future stability, they must invite the miscreant back into the family. That kept Europe at peace for generations.

Emotion argues that Russia is a troublemaker because it refuses to play by our rules, and must be confronted and punished. Reason should reply that Russia is a legitimate power, cannot be expected to take orders from the West, and will not stand quietly while the United States promotes anti-Russia movements on its borders.

In our current standoff, Russia has at least one advantage: Its leaders are not foolish enough to consider the United States an existential threat. We would benefit from a bit of their realism.



Donald Trump and Ben Carson renew their attacks on Muslims as Hillary Clinton warns of 'starting fires'

A Muslim should never be president, says Ben Carson, as Donald Trump maintains his refusal to apologise for anti-Muslim questioner

Two of the leading Republican contenders for the presidency further stoked the flames of a row about Muslims in America on Sunday, as Hillary Clinton warned all sides to beware of lighting fires “that can get out of control”.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson both used appearances on the Sunday chat shows to harden their stances – as a new poll showed that Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican race, was soaring in the ratings, overtaking Mr Carson and eating away at Mr Trump’s support.

Mr Carson, a neurosurgeon who has never been elected to any political office, told NBC News that a Muslim should never be president, because Islam is not “consistent with the constitution.”

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation – I absolutely would not agree with that,” he said.

Islam has been a hot subject of the presidential campaign this week, and Mr Trump has been criticised for failing to take issue with a man on Thursday who, at an event in New Hampshire, said: "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. When can we get rid of them?"

Asked on Sunday whether he believed Muslims were a problem, the combative billionaire said: “We can say no, and you can be politically correct, and say everything’s wonderful. But I haven’t seen people from Sweden going back and leaving after the bombing of the World Trade Center, so we have a problem.

“And at the same time, we have fabulous Muslims living here and they have done fantastically well.

“But certainly if I were to say ‘Oh no, not at all,’ then people would not believe me.

“So it may not be the right thing to say, but I don’t care what the right thing to say is. Some Muslims, and the terrorism and everything else, it seems to be pretty much confined there. So it is a problem - and we can say no - but it is.”

Mr Trump’s support in a CNN/ORC poll has fallen from 32 per cent earlier this month to 24 per cent now, while Mrs Fiorina is now in second place. Mr Trump dismissively said on Sunday that “she has a good pitter patter, but if you listen to her for more than five minutes straight you get a headache” – yet Mrs Fiorina has seen her support surge to 15 per cent – up from only three per cent at the beginning of this month.

And Mrs Clinton, making her first appearance on a Sunday morning chat show since 2011, warned of the dangers of the rhetoric coming from the Republican side, and described Mr Trump’s failure to correct the audience member as “appalling”.

“He is fuelling a whole level of paranoia and prejudice about all kinds of people,” she said.  “And when you light those fires, you better recognise that they can get out of control. And he should start dampening them down and putting them out.

“If he wants to talk about what he would do as president, that’s obviously fair game. But to play in to some of the worst impulses that people have these days, that are really being lit up by the internet and other conspiracy minded theories, it just irresponsible. It’s appalling.”



Dissidents arrested as Pope Francis celebrates his first Mass in Cuba

Pope John Paul II stood up to the Communist government of Poland and gave the people courage to resist -- but it is clear that this Pontiff tried nothing like that in Communist Cuba

Pope Francis meets with Fidel Castro in Havana, after an outdoor mass attended by tens of thousands of people in the capital's Revolution Square

Cuban authorities prevented leading dissidents from meeting Pope Francis in Havana on Sunday, in a sign of the Communist regime’s rigid intolerance of political opposition.

Two well-known dissidents, Marta Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leiva, had been invited by the Vatican to attend a vespers service led by the Pope’s in Havana’s historic baroque cathedral.

But they said they were detained by security agents and barred from attending the event.

"They told me that I didn't have a credential and that I couldn't go to the Pope’s event that was taking place there in the plaza of the Cathedral," Ms Roque said.

She said that she and Ms Leiva had also been invited by the Vatican to meet Pope Francis at the residence of the Holy See’s ambassador to Cuba shortly after the pontiff's arrival on Saturday, but that they were detained on that occasion as well.

The head of an opposition group called the Ladies in White said that 22 of the 24 members of the group who had hoped to attend a Mass celebrated by the Pope were prevented from doing so by Cuban security officials.

There had been intense speculation about whether the Pope would risk incurring the displeasure of his host, President Raul Castro, by meeting political opponents of the Communist regime.

The fact that the Vatican invited the women to Sunday’s cathedral service showed Francis’ determination to try to engage with the dissident movement, which has endured years of persecution by the Castro regime.

Earlier in the day, the Pope celebrated Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square in front of tens of thousands of people.

He was driven through the crowds in a white pope-mobile, pausing to kiss children who were held up to him.

As the ceremony got underway, Cuban security officers detained at least three people who appeared to be trying to distribute leaflets in the capital’s Revolution Square, a large open area dominated by a massive likeness of revolutionary hero Che Guevara.

The three people were tackled and dragged away by the officers.

Political opponents of President Raul Castro’s Communist regime are regularly subjected to harassment and intimidation.

In its latest report on Cuba, Human Rights Watch said that the Castro government “continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism.”

The human rights group said “repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.”

There are high hopes among many Cubans that the Pope’s visit will spur the Castro regime towards enacting more reforms and granting greater freedoms to its long-suffering people, who survive on an average monthly wage of $25.

But the message delivered by the Pope in two addresses to the large crowd was more pastoral than political and he refrained from issuing even coded criticism of the Communist government.

After the morning Mass, Pope Francis met Fidel Castro at the ex-president's residence in Havana, in an encounter that had been widely expected.

The pair held a "friendly and informal conversation" for around 40 minutes, said the Rev Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

A photo provided by Alex Castro, Fidel's son and official photographer, showed the 89-year-old former president and Francis looking into each other's eyes as they shook hands, the pope in his white vestments and Castro in a white shirt and Adidas sweat top.

They also exchanged gifts. Fidel Castro gave the Pope a book titled "Fidel and Religion", based on conversations between the Cuban leader and a Brazilian priest, in which he discussed his views on Catholicism and his education in a Jesuit school.

The Pope gave Fidel a book written by a Jesuit who taught the former guerrilla leader at the Catholic school he attended as a child.

The Pope will fly from Havana to the eastern city of Holguin on Monday, where he will celebrate Mass, and from there will travel to the city of Santiago.

On Tuesday he will fly from Cuba to Washington, where he will meet President Obama and address Congress, on his first visit to the United States.



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