Friday, 19 September 2008

Rice lectures to the end, by Peter Lavelle

by Peter Lavelle

U.S. Secretary of the State, Condoleezza Rice, delivered what is probably her last major speech on Russia while in office. Addressing the German Marshall Fund, she demonstrated that she understands very little of what Russia’s foreign policy is all about. Rice can’t get beyond the web of double-standards and self-righteousness that has been part and parcel of U.S. foreign policy for almost the last twenty years.

Like a headmaster of a prep school, Rice told her audience what was right (preciously little) and wrong about Russia’s foreign policy (and a few condescending comments on Russia’s domestic policies). In a nutshell Russia – the schoolboy – misbehaves badly in the world. Rice’s speech sounded like a report card being read out to parents who should be ashamed.

Everyone “miscalculated” when it came to the origins of Saakashvili’s war. Rice went on to state that Tbilisi was provoked by Russia to start the war. This is utter nonsense and an insult to those who needlessly died. Let’s give it a thought: Russia tricked the Georgians into killing civilians and Russian peacekeepers. Russia tricked Tbilisi into shelling women and children as they slept. How did Russia stand to benefit from that? Rice did not mention a word on the militarisation of the Saakashvili regime – paid for and trained by Washington. What was that beefed-up military for? Well we know the answer to the question now.

Rice claims Russia violated international law and dismembered a sovereign state. But she contradicted herself. She admitted that Tbilisi started military operations first (though because of a “provocation”). International law became a dead letter when Saakashvili ordered the first shot. Rice is right on one point – Georgia’s sovereignty has been changed. However, it was Saakashvili’s regime with American support that created this new reality. Russia is not selfishly seeking security on its borders.

Just as an aside, I would have liked to ask her the following question: Americans are regarded as occupiers in Iraq. Are Russians seen as occupiers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? The answer is obvious! Russian troops are seen as liberators. Anyone who believes that we can go back to the status quo ante in Georgia is delusional. The good news is Tbilisi will never again threaten its former breakaway republics.

Rice spoke with contempt when referring to Dmitry Medvedev’s claim that Russia has “privileged” interests in the region of the world where it is situated. This comes from an American Secretary of State who sees the entire world as Washington’s sphere of influence! I don’t even have words to describe this enormous double-standard.

Again Rice went on to talk about how wonderful, friendly, democratic and open, blah, blah, etc NATO is. She repeated the usual litanies about how it projects peace and security. Ask the Serbs what they think about this flowery language. Ask ethnic Russians in Ukraine what they think about peace-loving NATO. The fact is Rice and NATO never think about anybody else’s security – least of all Russia’s. Never once did Rice mention how Russia understands its own security interests. Never once - to my mind – has the US ever sat down with Russia to cut a deal both can live with.

Rice really annoyed me by her remarks that Russia bullies its neighbors - and the reference to using energy as a blackmail tool is simply ludicrous. The U.S. has spent millions of dollars to promote regime changes in the post-Soviet space. Is Russia really expected to stand on the sidelines and watch the U.S. overthrow regimes it doesn’t like in favor of those that promote its global geopolitical agenda (that is almost always directed against Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space)? Any Russian leader who would allow this to happen would be charged with dereliction of duty.

As for using energy to blackmail its neighbors, Rice obviously does not know much about Russia’s energy policy. Prior to about 2001, Russia DID use energy as a political tool. But such a policy did not produce dividends. Russia provided CHEAP energy to its neighbors in the HOPE of political deference. What happened? Russia’s neighbors gladly accepted Russia’s cheap energy, but at the same time entertained Western approaches. Essentially what Russia tried to do was to subsidise its neighbours’ foreign policies and it didn’t work. Going to market prices takes politics out of the equation. But Dick Cheney doesn’t agree. Energy is his favourite weapon of choice to start wars.

Rice’s speech was pathetic. It never entered her mind that others have their own opinion and interests. The U.S. has needlessly created havoc in the world. It has made potential friends into enemies. It ignores international law when it suits its purposes. But it condemns others for not following it. It supports aggression, but never admits its own. And it can’t even run its own economy-based market principles it claims to hold so dear.

I, for one, will be very happy to see Ms Rice leave the scene. She insults even average intelligence. Her views on Russia and how the world should kneel to American interests are Orwellian. The only upside to all of this is the plain fact that Rice and the rest of the Bush people have basically bankrupted the U.S. Washington today has few resources to play the world as its own chessboard. Its ideologically driven over-reach is ending in the checkmate of itself.

In Russian there is a saying: The dogs bark, but the caravan passes. And Rice’s bark has no bite.

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