Friday, February 16, 2007

Putin's Munich Doctrine Reverberations and the Dialogue of the Deaf

Today's Washington Post contains two views reflecting on Russia after Putin's watershed speech delivered last weekend during the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy .

The first is by David Ignatius and offers a clear and intelligent assessment of the challenges and choices faced by Russia on its road towards democracy. Ignatius offers insight into the inner workings of the upper echelons of Russian leadership. If one listens to these men, a clear message comes through. Namely, Russia will do what Russia wants to do - not what Americans think they should do. It behooves his readers to hear the words of the men he quotes so as to understand before drawing conclusions as to what we would project onto Russia as the "correct way" forward.

Unfortunately, American proscriptions and prescriptions make the rest of the world cringe like the scratching of a fingernail across a blackboard. A sense of American exceptionalism and benevolent hegemony has permeated and constrained our foreign policy to the point that we no longer listen or even hear others. The US is increasingly rejecting dialogue as a sign of weakness. Diplomacy, as envisioned by George Kennan and practiced so successfully by many US presidents, is no longer the strategy of choice.

The second piece in the Post today by Charles Krauthammer is an exasperating example of this attitude; it is classic Krauthammer - replete with arrogant war-mongering and imperial hubris. He follows his typical point and shoot method of analysis which offers the reader nothing but a sense that everything must be all the other guys fault... everything must be the American way or the high-way.

Even if one starts from the premise that the US experience is worthy of emulation, which it is, shoving it down the other guy's throat is not likely to gain any avid and sustained following.

Rather than engage the substance of Putin's speech, Krathammer resorts to offensive defense. He rejects out of hand all that Putin puts on the table by simply saying that Russia can't be taken seriously because it has such a bad record. For example, he dismisses Putin's comments such:

There is something amusing about criticism of the use of force by the man who turned Chechnya into a smoldering ruin; about the invocation of international law by the man who will not allow Scotland Yard to interrogate the polonium-soaked thugs it suspects of murdering Alexander Litvinenko, yet another Putin opponent who met an untimely and unprosecuted death; about the bullying of other countries decried by a man who cuts off energy supplies to Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus in brazen acts of political and economic extortion.

Really! Is that to say that the US has not turned Iraq into a "smoldering gun", or that the US has turned over to Italy the CIA agents charged with a case of rendition of a man to Egypt from Italy? The list here could be much longer, but the point is made.

The point is that such mud slinging is only conducive to rallying support in the bleachers or on the battlefield. It is not a form of dialogue that the US, the world leader, should be engaging the rest of the international community with. Being the leader brings with it the ability to lead...

Since the fall of the Berlin wall, the US has emerged as the greatest power among the community of peoples and states. What has the US done with this grand position over the past 17 years? Is it not plausible that other states should rise to ask such a question, and if not hearing an acceptable response, take a seat at the head of the table? Is it not our duty to ask it of ourselves? What have we done with the responsibility that falls upon our shoulders by virtue of being where and what we are?

Krauthammer would do both his readers and himself well to remember that he has two ears and one mouth for a reason...

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