5
Mar

aMERICA IS nOT IN RETREAT

Written on March 5, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Op Ed

As America navigates a changing world, the people who seem to be having the greatest difficulty with the adjustment are the country’s pundits. Over the past few weeks, a new conventional wisdom has congealed on the op-ed pages: The United States is in retreat, and this is having terrible consequences around the world.This week, The Post’s Richard Cohen presented the usual parade of horrible things happening around the world — chiefly Syria — for which President Obama is to blame, and he added a few new ones for good measure, such as Scotland’s and Catalonia’s possible moves toward secession. In the face of all these challenges, Cohen asserted, Obama refuses to be the world’s policeman or even its “hall monitor.” Yes, if only the president would blow a whistle, the Scots and Catalans would end their centuries-old quest for independence!

Forget the Federal Reserve’s “taper,” Niall Ferguson tells us in the Wall Street Journal, the much greater danger is Washington’s “geopolitical taper.” He presents as evidence of Obama’s disastrous policies the fact that more people have died in the “Greater Middle East” under Obama than under George W. Bush. But there is a huge difference in the two cases. In the Bush years, the numbers were high because of the war in Iraq, a conflict initiated by the Bush administration. In the Obama years, the numbers are high because of the war in Syria, a conflict that the Obama administration has stayed out of. If this logic were to be followed, Bush is responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths in Sudan and Congo during his presidency.

Most of the critiques were written before the fall of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanu­kovych, so they tend to view Ukraine as another example of the weak and feckless Obama administration. Events in Ukraine actually illustrate how the world has changed and how U.S. leadership is better exercised in this new era.First, the United States was not the most important player in the crisis. Ukraine wants to be part of the European Union, and it is the European Union that will make the crucial set of decisions that will affect the fate of Kiev. (That’s why Washington was understandably frustrated with the union’s slow and fitful diplomacy, as evidenced in Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s profane phone criticism.) By staying relatively quiet and working behind the scenes, the Obama administration ensured that the story was not about America’s plans to steal Ukraine from Russia but rather about the Ukrainian people’s desire to move West. (Nationalism, that crucial force, is not working against U.S. interests for a change.) Now the United States can play a key role in helping to deter Russia from derailing Ukraine’s aspirations. That will require some firmness but also careful negotiations, not bluster.The world is not in great disorder. It is mostly at peace with one zone of instability, the greater Middle East, an area that has been unstable for four decades at least — think of the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the Iraq war, the Sudanese civil war, the Afghan wars and now the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration has not magically stopped this trail of tumult.  Read more…

 

By Fareed Zakaria, Published on Feb. 28 in the Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com

3
Mar

This is perhaps the most dangerous point in Europe‘s history since the end of the cold war. Direct confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces will draw in the United States, one way or another. While there is still time, it’s extremely important to understand what each party involved is aiming for.

Over the last 10 days, Moscow has been unpleasantly surprised several times. First, when Ukraine‘s then president, Viktor Yanukovych, halted an operation which would have cleared his opponents from the positions they occupied in central Kiev. Given the clear order, the Berkut riot police were closing in on the Maidan – the protest movement, named after Kiev’s Independence Square, whose leaders were desperately calling for a truce, – but suddenly the Berkut advance was stopped. Instead, Yanukovych invited the opposition for negotiations. The second surprise came when the negotiations turned into talks about Yanukovych’s concessions, with the participation of three European Union foreign ministers.

The agreement, signed on 21 February, was a delayed capitulation by Yanukovych – who had been seen triumphant only a couple of days earlier. An even bigger surprise was the rejection of these capitulation terms by the radicals, and the opposition supporting Yanukovych’s immediate resignation. Finally, the German, Polish and French governments, who had just witnessed the Kiev accord, raised no objection to the just-signed agreement being scrapped within hours.

Russia, whose representative had been invited to witness the signing of the 21 February document, but who wisely refused to co-sign it, was incensed. What Moscow saw on 21-22 February was a coup d’état in Kiev. This development led to a fundamental reassessment of Russian policy in Ukraine, and vis-à-vis the West.

Viewing the February revolution in Kiev as a coup engineered by Ukrainian radical nationalists from the west of the country – assisted by Europe and the United States – the Kremlin believed Russia’s important interests were directly affected. First, Russian president Vladimir Putin‘s plans of economic integration in the post-Soviet space would have to do without Ukraine. Second, the fact that radical nationalist components were among the beneficiaries of the Kiev revolution left no doubt about Ukraine’s future foreign and security policy and its domestic policies. Read more…

By Dmitri Trenin, Published in the Guardian on 2 March 2014, www.theguardian.com

28
Feb

mira

 

On Tuesday 25 February, Mira Milosevich, Senior Researcher at the FAES Foundation and frequent contributor to El Pais, El Mundo, ABC and La Cope, addressed the prickly and highly timely topic of Ukraine. According to Ms. Milosevich, the current crisis in Ukraine has shown that 1) the country is unable to produce a stable and unified government 2) the post-soviet state is unworkable and 3) the Cold War may be over, but geopolitics certainly live on. To buttress her first point, Ms. Milosevich pointed out to the fact that Ukraine had undergone 3 revolutions in a single generation: in 1991, when it obtained independence from the USSR, in 2004 with the Orange Revolution (or Velvet revolution) and in 2013/2014, as it unfolds today.

In essence, the core problem in Ukraine is  geography not politics. Ukraine (which means “on the border”) is precisely that, on the border between the West and Russia. Its population is almost perfectly divided between the East which is pro-Russian and speaks predominantly Russian and the West which is Pro-EU and speaks Ukrainian. What is playing out today in Ukraine is a tug of war between the EU and Russia. Ukraine has a much deeper historical and cultural significance for Russia. It also represents a vital security issue for Russia since keeping a strong influence over Ukraine creates a buffer between Russia and the West. The EU’s interest is much milder and less visceral. How far will each “bloc” go to win Ukraine over? That is the million dollar question. At the end of the day, the one with deeper pockets will most certainly win the chess game, and right now Ukraine desperately needs $35 billion.

And so what comes next for Ukraine? There are 3 options at this point. The current status quo could be maintained and the resulting period of instability and turmoil. Russia or the EU could manage to win the entire country over to its side….by offering large amounts of aid and benefits. Or, last and perhaps most probable, the country could be partitioned. Let’s hope that whatever happens, democracy is preserved and Ukrainians freely choose their future government.

27
Feb

Spotlight on Crimea

Written on February 27, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Foreign Policy, News

With the victory of the Maidan movement in Ukraine and fall of President Viktor Yanukovich, many questions about the future of Ukraine are swirling. The most important and potentially disastrous question involves Crimea. Pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators in Crimea clashed on Wednesday as Putin ordered military exercises across the border and the Crimean parliament ruled out debating a split from Kiev.

Crimea, a majority-Russian-speaking peninsula in the south of Ukraine on the Black Sea coast, could become the next flashpoint in the Ukrainian crisis. History is a big part of the problem.

Crimea was conquered by the Russian tsar Catherine the Great in 1783 from the Crimean Tatar Khanate, a state descended from the Mongol Empire and for centuries affiliated with the Ottoman Empire. Crimea was settled primarily by Russian nobles and serfs in the succeeding century.

Joseph Stalin deported the entire Tatar population of Crimea to Central Asia during World War II in one of his fits of paranoia. Crimea had little historical connection with Ukraine until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from the Russian Socialist republic to the Ukrainian Socialist republic in 1954, in honor of the three-hundredth anniversary of the annexation of the Eastern half of Ukraine by the Russian tsar Aleksei in 1654.

Nikita Khrushchev and most of the world thought this was meaningless because both republics were part of the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Crimea became part of the independent Ukrainian state.

Russian elites have never really accepted Crimea as a valid part of Ukraine. Many Russians own or rent summer dachas on the peninsula. The Russian Navy maintains an important base at Sevastopol. Read more…

Eric Lohr is Professor of Russian History, and Anya Schmemann is an Assistant Dean at American University.

Published in the National Interest on 27 February: http://nationalinterest.org

25
Feb

America’s Global Retreat

Written on February 25, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

Since former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke uttered the word “taper” in June 2013, emerging-market stocks and currencies have taken a beating. It is not clear why talk of (thus far) modest reductions in the Fed’s large-scale asset-purchase program should have had such big repercussions outside the United States. The best economic explanation is that capital has been flowing out of emerging markets in anticipation of future rises in U.S. interest rates, of which the taper is a harbinger. While plausible, that cannot be the whole story.

For it is not only U.S. monetary policy that is being tapered. Even more significant is the “geopolitical taper.” By this I mean the fundamental shift we are witnessing in the national-security strategy of the U.S.—and like the Fed’s tapering, this one also means big repercussions for the world. To see the geopolitical taper at work, consider President Obama’s comment Wednesday on the horrific killings of protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. The president said: “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

No one took that warning seriously—Ukrainian government snipers kept on killing people in Independence Square regardless. The world remembers the red line that Mr. Obama once drew over the use of chemical weapons in Syria . . . and then ignored once the line had been crossed. The compromise deal reached on Friday in Ukraine calling for early elections and a coalition government may or may not spell the end of the crisis. In any case, the negotiations were conducted without concern for Mr. Obama.

The origins of America’s geopolitical taper as a strategy can be traced to the confused foreign-policy decisions of the president’s first term. The easy part to understand was that Mr. Obama wanted out of Iraq and to leave behind the minimum of U.S. commitments. Less easy to understand was his policy in Afghanistan. After an internal administration struggle, the result in 2009 was a classic bureaucratic compromise: There was a “surge” of additional troops, accompanied by a commitment to begin withdrawing before the last of these troops had even arrived. Read more…

By Niall Ferguson

Mr. Ferguson is a history professor at Harvard and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. His most recent book is “The Great Degeneration” (Penguin Press, 2013).

Published on 21 Feb. 2014 in http://online.wsj.com

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