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By Aleks Yakubssohn
As Rex Tillerson is confirmed the new US Secretary of State, and president Trump's foreign policy takes shape, it's time to share some thoughts and suggestions for it, that i find vital.
If there's one central point to Donald Trump's political persona, it's that he's a man of strong, brave and often non-systemic, sometimes even anti-systemic convictions and decisions. And while this may cause uncertainty, it also can be a boon for better future. After all, even though unlike our new president I have for most part been a believer and supporter of what is usually termed these days as 'globalization', 'world system' and so on, I also always maintained that it should only be respected insofar as it benefits the cause and interest of liberty, democracy and justice. In the words of late Russian democratic politician Valeria Novodvorsky, 'a bad regime should not have a good economy, i bad regime should not have a good army, a bad regime should not have a good culture' and so on. Add to it that bad regimes should not have access to free market and other elements of modern society, as they tend to abuse and take advantage of opportunities this society provides, rather than adhere to general rules of conduct, or be grateful to US and others who put this very 'world system' in place and provided these very opportunities, and you pretty much get my foreign policy worldview.
It is also interesting to note, that while much has been made of our new state secretary's connections with Russian president Putin and his hydrocarbon industry cronies, with fears being fanned he and the president might change and even undo key elements of Russian policy of previous US administrations, it has to be noted that Mr Tillerson was a big donor to Jeb Bush's campaign early on in republican primary, and also apparently was suggested as Secy candidate by such 'mainstream' people as Dick Cheney and Condi Rice. Plus as a super experienced oil executive, he is a staunch supporter of exploration and development of energy industry, in particular here at home, which may very well once again bring oil and gas prices down, weakening in process standing of Russian, Venezuelan and some other rogue or unreliable partners.
What's to be done regarding Russian direction of our foreign policy, at this point? While understanding president Trump's desire to obtain good relations with that country, several important factors need to be noted. First of, as is proved among other by recent flair-up of violence in East Ukraine, such desire may meet insurmountable obstacles, that are possibly even beyond control of twice-world's most influential man, current Russian president Vladimir Putin. The situation he and his team largely created, is quite possibly out of their grasp by now. I would suggest at least keeping current sanctions in place, if not, given the president's so far rather friendly disposition towards Putin and his country, increasing them.
Let's also not forget that Russia in big part is at the center of several other conflicts currently going on, in various stages of intensity, from being original and most long-running supporter of North Korean regime(which i sincerely hope president Trump will stick to his promise to obliterate at some point, with goal being the unification of Korea Germany-style), Syrian civil war, where Putin has involved himself formally in order to aid 'legit' regime but really to divert his own populations; attention from Russia's own internal struggles; or currently 'frozen' conflicts in such nations as Georgia, Moldova or Tajikistan; or for that matter, well-attested friendship of Russian government with such 'troublemakers' and, in the language of our new president 'bad hombres' as Maduro or Castro. Whom, by the way, i also hope our new leadership will up the pressure on, as it seems time is ever riper for decisive changes in these and a few other countries currently under far left-regimes. In case of Cuba, i'd suggest restoration of both broadcasting and refugee programs undone by previous US administration, even as we are facing this huge controversy with refugees from other nations. President Trump perhaps knows very well, and it can also be attested by his former primary rivals such as sens Rubio and Cruz, that Cuban refugees are a group much more closely identifying with US and its values, and much less prone to presence of terrorist and other hostile elements, than those currently at the center of controversy. Kremlin is also known to be friends with other regional ultra leftist entities, even as Putin's own ideology and policy is much more right-leaning, in particular in Africa, where it among other supports one of most abject failures and simultaneously brashest self-aggrandizers in all governance history, that is Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. No one in their right state of mind in entire world would object had those regimes-- Zimbabwean, NorthKorean, Venezuealan, Cuban, Iranian, Palestinian(in its HAMAS branch), or Lebanese based shia terrorists of Hezbollah--disappeared off the face of Earth's political map this very instance, and if at some point US directly of indirectly has to do with it, so be it; and the fact of all these entities being on good terms with Russian leadership should not be a deterrent in the least. Times of tying our own hands behind our backs, and apologizing to entire world for nonexistent faults are hopefully over, and this is yet another possible benefit of new president's attitude.
Main fear of possible problems in Russia proper, it appears, has for many years been possible loss of control over world's one of two largest nuclear arsenals. Toward that end, previous US administrations, especially those of Bush senior and Clinton, failed to even fathom possible collapse and split-up of Russian Federation a-la USSR's own demise in 1991. This has led to historical overlooking of other former Soviet countries, and readiness to invest all eggs in a Kremlin basket, shutting eyes on almost anything the Kremlin may be doing in ad to its own country. And while i already mentioned president Trump's original well disposition towards Putin, i also did catch his more recent quote of sometimes changing opinion of people if they fail his trust. Towards this end, let me note that Mr Putin may both be not as reliable nor as strong in control over his nation, as may at first look. Underneath artificially whipped 86% approval rating lies dying economy, burdened by corruption, nepotism, pressure especially on small and medium level business community, unfair taxation and resource distribution system, which takes all earnings from regions into central budget and then kicks back crumbles to regions proper, making both dependent and donor regions and their governors dissatisfied. Severe problems in relations between various regions, especially when residents of 'Russian proper' territories like Siberia see preferential treatment of regions like Chechnya, on appearance of control over which the entire Putin legacy was essentially built. Crumbling infrastructure and many other problems make the situation in Russia appear far less predictable in at least middle and long term if not immediate future, as it seems at first glance.
It may be wise to at least take closer look at regional elites, opposition Russian figures, especially those of somewhat more conservative and nationalist leaning, and perhaps even some military, law enforcement and other 'power structures' personnel of levels under the top one, in order to seek possible future partners dealing with Russia eventually. Nuclear armageddon does not appear to me an inevitability in case of Russian Federation's breakdown, as it seems ways to take the WMP arsenals under control can very well be found, and actually were discussed even in Russian itself during crisis of late 90x-early 2000s. There may very well be people willing to not only cooperate but to call US, NATO and other responsible and capable players to take stock of Russian nukes. Also, it should be noted that had RF split into a few smaller states, none of them would be experiencing such global hegemonic aspirations as whoever finds themselves in Kremlin usually do, so dealing with smaller disjointed entities, even if not all of them are equally democratic or transparent, would be incomparably easier.
This having been said, i do not categorically rule out appearance of new and more agreeable leadership in Russia, and i especially want to emphasize that contrary to long held and seemingly false conviction in western policy making circles, better chance of finding such partner would be among somewhat more conservative and nationalist figures there. let us not forget that staunchest allies and supporters of America and its cause of opposing communism, islamism and other totalitarian entities, have usually come from more right-wing circles, even when it comes to former countries of Axis. Finding pro-American, pro-western and ultimately democratically leaning politicians among nationally conscious Russians is not as hopeless a task as many think. Take it from someone who knows such people first hand, some of whom actually evolved from very originally Anti-Western stances.
After collapse of Eastern bloc and then USSR proper, some western figure said in an interview, that 'we don't have a Marshall plan for former USSR'. i honestly think and always thought that was the problem, and such plan should exist, and not only for former Soviet or generally communist states. If we are to up the pressure on North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Zimbabwe and other regimes from 'the other side of the barricades', we should be ready for the 'morning after the triumph'. lack of such readiness hampered the world's perspectives after WW1, while existence of it helped after WW2. Even as ardent and clear anti-globalist as Pres. Trump will realize that in this matter best defense is offense, and in order to not have to stave off possible aggression at home, we need to be prepared to bring our 'game' to sources of that aggression. And given that president Trump as one of his first actions installed the bust of Churchill back in the oval office, he fully realizes it. Which is extremely encouraging.
We should try to abstain from possible temptation of recognizing some countries as 'backyard' of Russia, or for that matter of any other. For once, Ukraine, currently under Russian pressure and partial military occupation, is too large to be anybody's 'backyard'. A country of roughly 45 million and territory larger than that of France, cannot by definition be anybody's backyard. Secondly, while there's also huge temptation to 'forgive misbehavior' of Russian leadership in order to obtain access once again to tremendous opportunities working in that country's market provides, it also has to be kept in mind that Ukraine in many senses is even more promising. It's market is much more compact, it's shale gas deposits are as attractive as those of Russia, while it's culture is historically much more private business-oriented. And it's always easier to do business with one closer to you mentally, culturally and so on. If we are to adapt the 'America's business as business' as our foreign policy motto, then towards that very goal we need to realize the need for strong geopolitical stance, as sustaining and spreading American values is gonna serve that very goal. Finally, while many in the world like to claim that US is running roughshod in its own 'backyard', let us remind them this is really not so, as US does not muzzle its neighbors unless they pose clear threat such as attempts to spread openly hostile form of government and ideology, such as was in Grenada, or engage in grand levels of criminal activity such as was with Panama's Noriega. In one instance the US even restored its harsh critic, former Haiti president Aristide, in power, despite him using violence against opposition. Not to mention the patience we have exhibited with such openly hostile regimes as those of Castro, Chavez/Maduro, Correa, or Ortega. Far from 'forcing our way everywhere', as Mr Putin likes to do in what he incorrectly deems his own 'backyard' or 'neighborhood'--although as i said before, if we eventually play a role in actually getting rid of those regimes, very few people would complain.
Also, there's recently been novel but slightly disturbing news of so-called 'Calexit' movement opening an 'embassy' in Moscow. I think we would be well positioned to counter such rather unfriendly, on part of Kremlin, act with possible recognition of "Sibexit', 'Chechexit' and so on.
Finally, actions such as recently declared sale of Russian fighter planes to our possibly biggest current adversary, Communist China, also appears to be quite a suspicious move. In the very least Kremlin could refrain from such transactions.
Another hot pressing topic is Syria, and Middle East in general. While president Trump may be seen by many in very skeptical light on these, his initiatives on establishing Syria safety zones, keeping Iran in check(perhaps even striving for regime change there, and i most definitely call on the president to heed the appeal of those asking to support the MEK movement), returning to more clearly supportive stance towards Israel and other signals, are very encouraging. And since as we already said Mr trump is not one overly fearful of violating conventions, including territorial ones, let me express a few ideas here as well.
I trust it is extremely unfair that a 40 million strong and historically influential nation such as Kurds, do not have a statehood of their own. I also find it appearing ever harder for Turkish authorities to maintain control over their country's portion of Kurdistan, and i also find their stern opposition to establishment of possible Kurdish homeland to be misbegotten and near-sighted. Far from provoking more violence between Turks and Kurds, such development could actually help alleviate that tension by providing the chunk of Turkish Kurd populace absolutely unwilling to live under Ankara's rule, with a nationhood of their own.
I also pity the plight of Syrian as well as Iraqi and for that matter, Egyptian Christians, who are at the biggest threat due to instability and violence, and unlike their Lebanese counterparts, don't have either numbers or means of adequately defending themselves. Meanwhile, historically it was precisely Syrian Christians who originated the idea of special "Syrian nationalism', and at this moment at least one of leading Syrian opposition figures is one George Sabra, a Christian. A man like this would make a great compromise figure to lead the country into a new era of reconciliation and true coexistence.
And finally, onto perhaps the most important piece of our new foreign policy landscape--our relations with China, the country alluded to in the headline, as it is known that oranges are native to it and that the very name of orange used in both Russian and German languages''--apelsin'--means 'Chinese apple'. I commend president Trump's brave act of accepting congratulatory phone call from Taiwan's president, but personally i think we shouldn't as much question 'one China concept' as try to plan out for what kind of 'one China' it will eventually be. Even though that country may look much stronger than Putin's Russia, it has many of same problems such as corruption, overt centralization(with current leader Xi Zinpin actually trying to restore Maoist system of personalist control over entire state system), material disparity both between classes and regions, separatist tendencies in places from Tibet to Hong Kong, plus horrible ecological condition and other. Hence, its political system may also not be all that firm as it appears. Once, at much lower state of development and openness to the world, it nearly gave out--in summer of 1989; who's to say it can't happen again?
But we need to realize that it will get worse before it gets better, and the path to weakening or even demise of current Beijing regime may very well lie through lengthy war of nervous attrition with US, as the leadership will do everything in its power to pull the society closer around itself. Only upon reaching certain breaking point will it essentially admit its ideological defeat and need for true changes in various aspects of its country's life, be it economy, politics, treatment of neighbors near and far, internet and other media liberties, religious tolerance and what not. So if we are serious about confronting People's Republic of China, we need to quite brace ourselves.
And since i have already stated that best defense in geopolitical tussling is offense, and one need to find an ally in the camp of adversary in order to seriously increase its chances of success, i again want to call our leadership's attention to the plight of Christians, this time in the 'Orange motherland'. Christians in China are under constant scrutiny and various restrictive measures, forcing them to only attend officially approved churches and congregations, swear loyalty to the government and the party; recently Chinese regime in its pettiness has even resorted to encouraging its citizens to ditch "heathen" wedding traditions, costumes etc. which are mostly closely based and associated with Christian influence, in favor of 'native' ones. Meanwhile, Christianity in the country keeps growing, attracting up to 100 million followers, according to most optimistic estimates; and perhaps most importantly, it essentially, albeit not always explicitly, serves as a mean of cultural association with Western influences. Hence, just like in Middle East too, Chinese Christian community could be counted on as an ally in pushing for more democratic and generally dignified societal organization in China. For with all due respect towards all other religions and cultures, it just so happens today that Western culture sets the basic parameters of most correct way of life, albeit each nation and region are entitled to adapt them to their specifics.
In the words of our 43rd president, said in his penultimate State of The Union address, 'Our union is just, our cause is strong, and tonight that cause goes on. G-D BLESS!'
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