Friday, May 02, 2014

THE ROVING EYE - NATO's soft war on Russia By Pepe Escobar

NATO's soft war on Russia
By Pepe Escobar

Poor NATO. Damned Soviets. The benign North Atlantic Treaty Organization has spent two decades "trying to build a partnership" with Russia. But now, "clearly the Russians have declared NATO as an adversary, so we have to begin to view Russia no longer as a partner but as more of an adversary", according to NATO deputy secretary-general Alexander Vershbow, a former US diplomat/ Pentagon employee.

The hot lava irony of a Pentagon hack carping about "Russia clearly trying to re-impose hegemony" is enough to put the Vesuvius to shame. But that's only a minor plot twist in NATOThe Expandables (the movie).

NATO - still in the process of being epically humiliated on a daily basis by a bunch of Pashtuns with Kalashnikovs in Afghanistan - is now considering "new defensive measures" to deter "evil" Russia from "aggression" against NATO members, mostly the
Baltic states. And that will mean deployment of "more substantial numbers of allied combat forces to Eastern Europe" - mostly Poland. Permanently. Or, in Pentagonese, "semi-permanent unit training rotations". As if any doubt remained that Cold War 2.0 is here to stay.

NATO will "debate" the issue - in its usual muddy waters fashion - over the summer, and the result will be announced at a meeting in Wales in September, presided by Emperor Barack Obama himself.

Any analyst not embedded in the Pentagonese matrix knows that key European Union powers Germany and France - which have solid economic and business ties to Russia - will never buy this new spin for Cold War 2.0. As for other sizable NATO members, they are simply broke, and/or have better (economic) fish to fry at home.

Informed opinion also knows that were Cold War 2.0 to progress, payback will be handsome - as in, just for starters, Russia simply killing the Northern Distribution Network, which allows NATO's escape route from its sterling performance in Afghanistan.

Vlad the contemplator 
Nonetheless, NATO spin remains relentless; there's "no sign of Russian troops withdrawing from the Ukraine border; the US is sending "non-lethal" military aid to Ukraine (as in what? Baseball bats?); US ground forces are being sent to Poland. And all this to fight "separatists" and "pro-Russian" militants in Eastern Ukraine.

Rubbish. These people need to study geography, not to mention NATO's own charter. Ukraine is not even part of NATO, to start with. And the majority of Eastern Ukrainians don't want to annex themselves to the Russian Federation. What they want is strong autonomous provinces, free from Kiev meddling, in a cadre of a federal, Finlandized Ukraine. All one needs is to ask those Ukrainians who are now controlling 23 cities - and counting - in the Donbass, which accounts for over a third of Ukraine's GDP.

Meanwhile, adults are talking, unlike the Obama administration's proponents of the juvenile delinquent school of diplomacy. Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were on the phone on Workers Day. Putin once again stressed Kiev should halt its repeated "anti-terrorist" offensives, and launch an inclusive national dialogue. That does not seem likely.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also felt compelled to remind Pentagon head Chuck Hagel that Russia will not "invade" anything, unless Kiev uses their military against unarmed civilians - which is exactly what the latest Kiev provocation in Slavyansk is all about.

US Think Tankland is frantically downgrading NATO hysteria about "aggressive Russia" as a "measured response". That fools only the hopelessly misinformed. After creating a failed state in Libya and the Afghanistan fiasco, global Robocop NATO, in its quest for "purpose" and meaning, cannot stop from fabricating an enemy.

Some gloss is offered via what is described as shifting the "strategic focal point" - from Afghanistan? - to the Baltics plus Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Pentagon as well as Vice-President Joe Biden has promised to "increase training" with "eastern NATO partners".

Putin, meanwhile, is just applying Sun Tzu. He might as well be calmly cross-legged contemplating the waters of the Volga. So far away from that nonsense about Moscow "aggressively" invading the Baltic states. By the way, it could be done in a heartbeat; and NATO would never see it coming. But Moscow does not want, or need, any such escalation.

The bottom line: global Robocop NATO can only survive if it faces a mortal threat. So what better platform to "harmonize" NATO than a "hostile" Russia? Either that, or keep licking those Pashtun-inflicted wounds in the Hindu Kush.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

Hillary Clinton sizes up lame-duck Obama By Peter Lee

Hillary Clinton sizes up lame-duck Obama
By Peter Lee

Uh-oh. Looks like things are getting somewhat Ides-of-Marchy within the Obama administration, and the coterie of Hillary Clinton supporters and enthusiasts pushing the president to set military sights on hotspots far from Washington have something to do with it.

From the LA Times:
Those who want him to act more forcefully include not only Republicans but also liberal internationalists and some members of his staff. [emphasis added] [1]
I should say I'm pretty much on board with President Obama's hesitations about using military force, which I would gloss as,

"Don't use stupid actions to follow up on stupid policies."

The reference to dissent within the administration concerning his restraint on military matters is simply another sign that the vaunted Obama message discipline is crumbling, and everybody's waitin' on Hillary. The barrage of criticism of his foreign policy casts a new and favorable light on the president and his role in the generally grisly parade of foreign policy cockups that have characterized his two administrations. Particularly, it has highlighted the dissatisfaction of the neo-liberal and neo-con interventionists with President Obama's chariness in committing military power to advance their cherished initiatives. And that's a good thing.

Remarkably, given the considerable energy and intellectual power exhibited in America's non-stop overseas jiggery-pokery, US geopolitical strategy has abounded in stupid policies.

That's no accident. I think it has to do with the mindset of the interventionist caucus in the US foreign policy government and private sector apparatus, which has been dragging or guiding the US government into wars (and enhancing its own power, profits, and influence) for generations. The gold standard for ham-fisted intervention is still Iraq War II, but it seems there is an inexhaustible supply of wonks, pundits, advocates, and agitators within the Beltway ready to be "heroes in error" for the next US crusade.

Case in point: the anti-Russian enthusiasts in the State Department (here's lookin' at you, Victoria Nuland) overreached with the Kiev coup, now Obama won't back them up by threatening to employ the US military to buck up the government and deter Russia.

My reactions: 1. Boo-hoo. 2. Cry me a river. 3. Thank God.

Pretty much the same thing with Syria.

The United States contributed significantly to the catastrophe by listening to the regime-changers and backing the insurgents instead of considering some kind of accommodation with Assad. Death toll 150,000 and counting. Thank God Obama decided not to blow up the Middle East by bombing Syria and/or sending in troops in an attempt to rescue the faltering and increasingly radical and unpopular insurgency.

As for the pivot to Asia, Obama's stance is pretty problematic.

The pivot (by which I mean the US leading the China-containment effort, instead of simply participating in it) is premised on the idea that US military power is the trump card and the pivot rests on the foundation of a credible US deterrent; namely, a deterrent that the US will promptly deploy regardless of the geopolitical and economic consequences of messing with the PRC, a rather important regional power in a rather important region.

I've argued that China containment is the wrong policy for Asia (see Asia pivot comes back to bite the US, Asia Times Online, February 25, 2014) and the US could do better for itself by playing the honest broker in a bilaterally-tilted engagement strategy instead of taking up the role of backup to Japan and the Philippines in an anti-PRC united front and basing US credibility on the idea that we'll start World War III over a cluster of worthless islands.

Unfortunately for President Obama he jumped into the pivot bed that Hillary Clinton and the neo-liberal interventionists prepared for him, and he needs to declare that he will wield US military power precipitously, unfairly, and irrationally (like Nixon with his madman doctrine) if he wants to maintain his credibility as Pivoteer-in-Chief.

A few points about interventionism in the Age of Obama:
Military first ... I think initial failure in foreign affairs strategy in the political and diplomatic sphere, and the subsequent need for escalation into the military realm in order to paper over US failure and preserve credibility is a feature, not a bug, for the US interventionist foreign policy crowd. If you want to be generous, you could say that obvious flaws and risks of foreign policy adventurism - like installing a demonstrably incapable, fascist-larded government in Kiev over the strong and understandable objections of Russia and, for that matter, a healthy percentage of the population in Ukraine's eastern demographic and economic heartland - are simply ignored because the hardliners assume that some not clearly defined but invincible combination of money, power, sanctions, coercive diplomacy and, indispensably, utter callousness to the sufferings of the subject population, aka "Strategic Patience", will be sufficient to overcome the defects of even the most irresponsible policy.

I am not inclined to be generous. Syria and Ukraine look like classic examples of "Let's get the US government on the hook for a confrontational policy. The escalation will take care of itself." In other words, the policies were designed to paint President Obama into a corner and commit US prestige to fundamentally unviable policies that can only be rescued by escalating to the military solution that the designers of the policy wanted in the first place.

... and Obama knows this. He got burned on Afghanistan, where the surge turned a disaster that he could have turned the page on into an incubus that sucked life out of his administration for the whole eight years. He also got burned on Libya, a classic "camel's nose into the tent" or, to be less Orientalist, the classic "no fly zone turns into unrestricted air warfare" operation that transformed Libya into a failed state. The Iran rapprochement, if - and it's still a big if - it succeeds, has been conducted in defiance of the interventionists and will probably be the only part of President Obama's legacy that he can and will genuinely cherish.

Self-serving advocates ... It's kind of nice that the US populace seems rather down on the "tough choices" liberal/neo-con interventionist Beltway gang. It's not just the foreigners upon whom we inflict our policies that hate us. Presumably, this gives President Obama some aid and comfort when he decides to resist the advice of the self-serving foreign policy advocates who have embroiled his administration in a series of miserable confrontations from Afghanistan to Libya to Syria to Ukraine and endure the barrage of criticism their allies and acolytes unleash on the op-ed pages and on the cable networks.

... at war inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, political wars, especially foreign policy debates, are fought inside the Beltway, not in the nationwide democratic arena. To paraphrase Napoleon on the Pope, "How many defense contractors, bespoke lobbyists, doctrinaire think tankers, and op-ed writers do the American public have?" Resisting the interventionists, and their desire to maximize their influence and power and validate their their well-paid but not particularly successful existence, and taking across the spectrum political and diplomatic heat from domestic and foreign interests eager to get the US on the hook militarily to advance their agendas, is not going to score President Obama many useful political points.

Realization of this situation, I believe, has reflected itself in the President's morally questionable decision to let the interventionists' regime change shenanigans play out in places like Syria and Ukraine, while withholding the final military consummation they most desperately crave.

From shooting the lame-duck ... Sadly, I think the recent spate of articles questioning President Obama's warmongering cred are simply another sign that he's a lame duck. Much of the torrent of lame-duck dumping is misguided, cynical, or in the service of Hillary Clinton. Criticism of Obama is typified by the Ian Bremmer tweet: "Bush: a leader that didn't think; Obama: a thinker that doesn't lead". The actual distinction is that President Obama was not "led", led by the foreign policy apparatchiks of the same ilk that "led" George W Bush around by the nose. It is interesting, to say the least, that so many foreign policy types, for various reasons ranging, I imagine, from institutional self-interest to advocacy to carrying Hillary Clinton's water, are following the anti-Obama script.

... to dropping bombs. I'm afraid that, unlike President Obama, if she becomes president after winning the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton would love to play the interventionist game because of the authority, power, and political initiative pursuing craptacular but violent foreign policy initiatives give to the White House. In fact, given the Clintonian instinct for outflanking their adversaries by adopting even more extreme forms of their positions, things could get a lot worse.

Hillary, I think, will come into office eager to bomb something in order to re-establish US military cred and get on the (politically) right side of the liberal interventionists and even the neo-cons.

In other words, instead of questioning and modifying or even abandoning crappy policies (after all, the pivot is her baby), she will escalate, shifting the debate to the military sphere in which US military power is pre-eminent for the sake of holding the political initiative inside the Beltway and claiming the geopolitical initiative overseas.

Wonder who the symbolic (presumably helpless and easily demonized) victim will be? What country will be Hillary Clinton's Granada?

1. Obama argues against use of force to solve global conflicts, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2014.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

(Copyright 2014 Peter Lee) 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Obama's 'strategy' against 'pariah' Russia By Pepe Escobar

Obama's 'strategy' against 'pariah' Russia
By Pepe Escobar

The Barack Obama administration seems to love the sound of unilateral sanctions in the morning. It must feel like "victory".

Real, hardcore sanctions, if ever applied, would be devastating mostly for North Atlantic Treaty Organization poodles, not Moscow. Meanwhile, (energy) adults continue to do business as usual.

There's no way to understand Cold War 2.0 without a flashback to November 2010, when Vladimir Putin directly addressed German
business/industry, proposing an economic community fromLisbon to Vladivostok.

German interest in this key strategic relationship has been reciprocal. Amplified to other nations, that implies in the long run a full European Union-Russia economic/trade integration, and, in the bigger picture, a step closer to Europe-Asia integration. Which translates as absolute anathema for the embattled, Monopoly-addicted hyperpower/hegemon.

For all of US Think Tankland talking and theorizing, breathlessly, about "containment" of a "rogue state" - which in itself is laughable, as if Russia was Somalia - the Obama administration's overarching "strategy" is really in a class by itself. This masterpiece of juvenile delinquent diplomacy boils down to "ignore Putin".

Call it the "I don't like you; I don't wanna talk to you; I just wish you'd die" school of diplomacy. How come Talleyrand never thought if it? Well, with advisers such as the astonishing mediocrity Ivo Daalder, a former ambassador to NATO, no wonder Obama does not need enemies.

All we need is Lavrov 
The sanctions hysteria is designed to force President Putin to bow to the hegemon's whims, as part of the overall "strategy"; forging an "international consensus" to "isolate" Russia and turn it into a "pariah state". "Pariah states" that do energy mega-deals, as in here and here.

Still, the predominant wishful thinking revolves around the economic strangulation of Russia - as it was relentlessly attempted against Iran (and bravely resisted by Iranians). Inside their bubble, the wishful thinkers even believe Beijing will be on board, oblivious to the fact that Beijing clearly sees the sanction hysteria/ignore Putin "doctrine" as a branch of the "pivoting to Asia" - which is essentially military containment of China.

In the end, the Kremlin has also reached a similar conclusion: it's useless to talk to Washington. After all, the hegemon's laundry list remains the same - the Kremlin is not allowed to support popular protests in eastern and southern Ukraine; everyone must submit to the neo-nazi/neo-fascist-allied regime changers in Kiev; and Crimea must be "returned" - to NATO - so NATO can kick Moscow out of the Black Sea.

Washington's ultimate wet dream would be to interrupt gas shipments by Gazprom from Russia to the EU - in fact trade sabotage, which Moscow would undoubtedly interpret as an act of war. Meanwhile, Washington/NATO's "Plan A" remains to lure the Kremlin into an "invasion" - so Putin can be (in fact already is) denounced as "the new Hitler" and the ultimate threat to the EU.

So much for the "containment/isolation" martini cocktail of arrogance, ignorance, impotence and irresponsibility. Diplomatic finesse? Forget it. In terms of a real diplomat at work, feel free to admit "All We Need Is Lavrov".

Go back to Game of Thrones
Moscow has so many ways to retaliate real hard against the hegemon: in Syria; on the Iran nuclear dossier; on NATO's ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network, which goes through Russia; on the future of Afghanistan.

If the White House and the US State Department really wanted to listen to how Putin frames the relationship between the West and Russia, that has been voiced repeatedly by the Kremlin. Russia expects respect from "our Western partners", who since 1991 have treated it not as "an independent, active participant in international affairs", with "its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected", but as a backward or dangerous nation to dismiss and "contain".

The historical record clearly shows Washington does not respect the national interests of anybody; the only thing that matters is that they should always be subordinated to Washington's interests.

The Kremlin, in a nutshell, has invited Washington to play realpolitik. Not Monopoly. The Obama administration, at best - and we are being very lenient here - plays checkers. Moscow plays chess. A mad drive to instill chaos in Russia's western borderlands while "ignoring" Putin won't change the Kremlin's defense of what it perceives as Russia's national interests.

Let's say the "project" was to seize Ukraine, kick Moscow out of the Sevastopol base, and thus from the Eastern Mediterranean; and then take over Syria, so Qatar - and not Iran-Iraq-Syria - may get "its" share of Pipelineistan via Jordan and a Sunni-ruled Syria towards EU markets. The "project" is miserably failing.

Yet the sanctions game will persist (like it did with Cuba, Iraq, Iran). The White House is already concocting more of the same. No adults in Europe will follow. Even poodles are able to sniff that the Obama administration does not even qualify to play Game of Thrones on PlayStation 3.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at