War is war. Obama, Magnitsky and "The Cold Peace"

15:09 04.02.2013 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs


Winston Churchill held to the view that America makes the right decisions, but only after having tried everything else first. Senator J. William Fulbright believed that Americans have repeated many mistakes made in the past, just because they neglect the fact that the same thing could happen to them. Also he was convinced that the problems of America in Vietnam were not associated with a lack of power, but with its abundance.


 Nicco Caldararo (University of San Francisco) believes that today America suffers from the same delusion. Instead of being strong, its behavior can be characterized by impotent military misadventures and internal paralysis. In his opinion, there is an entirely different concept of "American exceptionalism," which could be called a paralysis of power.


Recent statements by the famous historian Stephen Cohen are very in tune with his thoughts, whose comments on the "Magnitsky Act" are downright asking to be on the cover of Fulbright’s book which is characteristically entitled "The arrogance of power."


In an interview with the radio station "Voice of America," Cohen said, America, dressed in a judge's robe, is bent on deciding what is good and bad in Russia. Are there any legal grounds - no, everything is defined by ideology. America feels entitled to dictate its will to Russia and teach her civil rights. Though, believe me, to get permission to hold a street demonstration in Chicago is more complicated than it is in Moscow.


Speaking of political paralysis, Cohen points to the loss of the familiar role of Congress in adjusting American foreign policy. In his opinion, the American people have not heard Congress have a say in foreign policy since the Vietnam War. On Capitol Hill, they just rubber stamp the decision of the White House administration. Want to fight in Iraq? Yes please. Want to go to war in Afghanistan? Okay! The fact is that Congress has ceased to initiate foreign policy actions.


Cohen calls the " Magnitsky Act" an act of revenge, raised to the rank of justice on the part of the Republican majority in the lower house. This is revenge for losing the election and for the fact that President Obama has strongly inhibited the "Magnitsky Act". “Now Congress intends to identify the “bad guys” in Russia and punish them. This is madness, and reminiscent of the highly aggressive behavior of a drunken rabble,” said Cohen.


At first glance, Moscow’s tough responses only confirmed Cohen’s conclusion that "a new cold war was just around the corner." The first step, according to Cohen, was in adopting the "Magnitsky Act". The second is the deployment of U.S. antimissile units near Russian borders.


Characteristically, in the Western press, more and more voices are heard that criticize the moral tone of the "last superpower". According to some observers, China and Russia are prime examples of how the West is abusing the subject of human rights to promote their own interests.


Gradually we are coming to understand that all these allegations have a limited effect and do not bring about "color revolutions" in China, Russia and other countries. The only result of the Western policy of criticizing these countries for human rights violations will be the stepping up of their cooperation and closure  to the West of the  markets of these fast-growing economies, says one of the Scandinavian newspapers.


In an article with the remarkable title "Rusted export of human rights" it states: If we are going to do business with people in other parts of the world, we should not dictate how they should live. The moral is that the time of Western export of democracy and human rights, has sunk into oblivion, just as the era of "gunboat" diplomacy did, and the people of other regions of the world are building their lives as they want or can.


To expect a sudden change in the direction of American "soft power" from President Obama is unlikely, nevertheless he will be forced to take steps that change the emphasis not only on the subject of human rights, but also the tactics used.


In acquiring more and more allies, criticizing the legacy of neoconservatives in the humanitarian field, Obama cannot just rely on the support of his European allies. Today, the Republican Party does not give the tone of centrist forces that are able to find common ground with the centrist Obama team.


As one Russian commentator quipped, for the current "mainstream" Republican "even the moderate centrist Obama is a “communist. "


 “War is war.” The emerging and growing ideological divide largely gives a free hand to the U.S. president, who understands that in any case a compromise is not expected. However, there are people capable of filling the echelons of the White House to develop new approaches, ready not only to withstand the ideological assaults of the "neoconservatives", but also to offer their alternative.


I cannot agree with Steven Cohen‘s conclusion that we are on the brink of a Cold War. Rather, we are on the eve of a growing, heated confrontation inside the United States, both in domestic and foreign policy.


Obviously, the consensus between the two parties in the assessment of world politics and American global strategy, as it was during the Cold War, is a thing of the past. However, the American historian is correct when talking about the current tendency, which should be called slipping into a "cold" or "very cold" peace.


In this regard, Obama has to decide whether he will go on to change his position on the deployment of missile defense systems. In other words, will he keep the promise made to Dmitry Medvedev some time ago, to listen to the opinion of Moscow after the election?

To take such a step would, of course, throw down the gauntlet in the face of right-wing Republicans. Although, due to tactical reasons, Obama will not do this in the near future, the decision still needs to be made. All the same, something will still have to start the pitched battle. And it must be a gunshot, not a mosquito bite.


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