Sixty years ago an uprising in the Ukraine would have been met with machine guns fired from behind the armor of Communist ideology. With the fall of the USSR, Russia didn’t have much of an ideology to deploy against Ukrainian nationalism.
Putin tried to replace Communism’s international agents of influence by cobbling together a crude network of leftist anti-imperialists, paleo-libertarians and assorted conspiracy theorists and exploited it with classic tradecraft. Assange and Snowden showed how damaging this could be to the United States, but Assange, Snowden and all the rest of the gang couldn’t keep the Ukraine in Putin’s hands.
The anti-government sentiments projected by RT can bring in useful idiots, Assange and Snowden are evidence of that, but they lack Communism’s power to influence millions through the medium of a comprehensive ideology whose followers were willing to lie and die for it in unending numbers.
If Russia had set out to suppress an uprising 60 years ago, its talking points would have been on the lips and printing presses of innumerable writers and papers. To see what that would look like today, just compare and contrast the coverage of protests in Ukraine and Venezuela. Putin destroyed whatever goodwill he had left from the left by coming out against gay rights. Maduro however is a Socialist in good standing. The media coverage of Venezuela and the Ukraine reflect that ideological disparity.
Russia and China traded Communism for economic productivity, but they lost the ability to project their power through the network of ideological alliances that once bound the left together. While Russia and China have moved away from the left, the United States has moved toward the left, but Obama is no more able to rally the left internationally than Putin or Xi Jinping.
Obama replaced traditional alliances with American allies with empty speeches. Russia and China have imperial visions built on a jumble of nationalism, exceptionalism and internal instability that they have a history of resolving through brutal repression or external conflict. Obama is operating on a jumble of leftist paradigms and existing pragmatic approaches that he inherited from prior administrations. The two often clash, as they did in Syria, because they are not compatible.
Obama’s foreign policy is a Jekyll and Hyde monster with a split personality of Clintonites trying to steer it away from the rocks and leftist extremists with more ideology than experience from the Center for American Progress aiming for the rocks. Neither side really knows what it’s doing and instead of picking a side, the man at the top is often willing to sit back and let them fight it out while the Washington and New York papers decide which side is right.
That’s not a good way to run a banana republic consisting of two shacks and a donkey. It’s a truly terrible way to run a world power.
Obama and the left don’t want America to be a world power. The old liberal consensus was that American power should be used to intervene in world conflicts. American power might have been abused in the past, but it would be a means to a progressive end. The new leftist consensus trashes even that much rejecting American power as a means to a progressive end because of its unilateral nature.
American power contains the potential for unilateralism. The only way to prevent the United States from acting outside a consensus is to dismantle its military and its influence. This is the aim that Obama has pursued over the years. The former community organizer did not do this in a consistent fashion, recognizing that an immediate implosion would be disastrous, but he worked toward it step by step.
The Post-American country no longer has the influence to allow Obama to do much of anything abroad, but he considers it a worthwhile trade, giving up power so that some nebulous anti-American consensus will take up that power instead.
When liberals dreamed of handing over American power to the United Nations or some international governing body, they were at least pursuing a logical plan for enforcing their values worldwide. The dream of that international governing body is long dead. Not even Samantha Power seriously believes that the United Nations is capable of doing what she would like it to.
The abandonment of power is instead the deliberate creation of a power vacuum. The United Nations with its American roots is also tainted. The neo-liberal system that leftists denounce is too embedded in international organizations to transfer power upward. Instead they transfer power downward.
Obama’s post-American agenda is the mirror image of the anti-government ideology that Russian agents of influence project into the West. Both agree that Western power is the problem. And both are not enough to command international influence in any meaningful way. Ideologies that exist in the negative space do not inspire people. They only usher in an age of apathy, cynicism and despair.
The only real difference between Barack Obama and Julian Assange is that the former was given the custody of a great power whose power he distrusts even as he uses it and the latter wasn’t.
The Islamic movements are the prime beneficiaries of the collapse of the Pax Americana just as they were the prime beneficiaries of the collapse of the Pax Romana. Nomads, merchants and raiders can survive and exploit the fall of an empire better than anyone else, assembling shadow armies, moving vast sums of money around through invisible networks built on trust and invading other territories on short notice as no standing army could do.
The great powers have thought of Islamic raiders, in their various incarnations as corsairs, terrorists, bandits and madmen, as weapons to be used against each other. That is still the way that they think today, repressing domestic Muslims and arming foreign Muslims, encouraging Islamic terrorism against their rivals and striking back when it’s directed at them.
Like Russia and the China, the United States is eager to include Muslims in its consensus, without recognizing that they have entirely different agendas of their own. And it’s not as if our consensus is especially compelling now that we have jettisoned everything except the international projection of the left’s politics of resentment.
The Russians offer Muslims a place in Eurasia and China offers them a role in its People’s Republic; neither offer is particularly compelling. Russia and China will always exist for the purposes of the majority group and its elites and neither particularly bothers to disguise it. That is why few of Russia’s neighbors, Christian or Muslim, are especially enamored of the idea of recreating the USSR as the Eurasian Union, but without the Communism.
But paradoxically a post-American order has even less to offer them. Russia and China stand for something even if it is only their own power. The Post-American order stands for nothing except its own dismantling. That is why Obama sets red lines that he won’t enforce and issues threats that he doesn’t mean.
The only thing less appealing than selfishness is the complete absence of self. The only thing less appealing than empire is an anti-imperialism that so thoroughly negates its own power that it has no reason to exist.
Post-American America exists to destroy itself. Until that changes, it has nothing to offer the world except membership in a suicide pact.
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