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The West’s Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost

Mistakes Made Since The 1990s Might End in A Disaster

Viewpoint by Jonathan Power

LUND, Sweden (IDN) — You can interpret it on any level you like—that the Russians are inherently parochial and out of touch with how most of the world thinks and have it coming to them; that Russia is instinctively and cleverly Machiavellian and having failed to overpower the West with communism is now undermining it with a crude version of capitalism—as at present, using its commodity, oil, to push NATO to pull back from its expansionary urges.

The truth is more workaday: it is the West’s chickens coming home to roost from mistakes made towards the end of the Cold War. If the Western powers had gambled 2% of NATO’s budget and met the Soviet Union’s economic needs in President Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost era there would have been a much less de-stabilising transition.

Then, having misjudged that window of opportunity, preferring Boris Yeltsin for reasons that now appear rather ludicrous—he seemed fresher, more pro-western and more democratic—they missed it again with Yeltsin’s first government when economic policy was run by imaginative reformers like Yegor Gaidar. The West should have done with Russia what it did with Poland, effectively write off its debts. Or what the US did with defeated Germany and Japan, put them on their feet to economic recovery with low interest loans.

With India and Pakistan, it is different chickens but the same roost they are coming home to. Their nuclear bombs dangle like a sword of Damocles by the slenderest piece of string. Their nuclear arms race could have been probably canned around 1979. Then the Gandhian, Morarji Desai, was Indian prime minister and was sympathetic to the idea.

Indeed, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi crossly told me that he had unilaterally ruled out any more nuclear explosions, without even consulting his cabinet. But short-sightedly, President Jimmy Carter pushed Desai on the wrong flank, threatening to cut off supplies of enriched uranium. This worked only to raise hackles in the Indian establishment and reduced Desai’s room for manoeuvre.

If Carter had listened more carefully to Desai he would have thrown his energies into a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (an Indian initiative) and pushed harder on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union. Then Desai, if he could have demonstrated to his colleagues real superpower progress on nuclear disarmament, would have been happy to ban the development of India’s bomb.

Then the same Jimmy Carter, who built himself an undeserving image as a peacemaker, decided in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to back Pakistan to the hilt, turning a blind eye to its nuclear weapons program. It couldn’t have been a more badly chosen time to take the pressure off Pakistan.

Instead, Washington piled in the military and political support, backing and aiding the Pakistani military and intelligence services in the black arts of subversion inside Afghanistan. To the Afghani mujahideen guerrillas went state-of-the-art Stinger and Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles.

It was an incredibly unthought-out policy. The Soviets, even if they wanted to cross through Afghanistan and then Iran to find a “warm water” port, as the geopoliticians maintained, would have been physically unable to traverse such inhospitable terrain en masse. The main threat they posed was mainly to themselves and they should have been allowed simply to get bogged down and stew in their own juice.

This rash American reaction created “America’s Frankenstein”, two of them in fact. In Pakistan the nuclear bomb and, in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda.

The third chicken coming home to roost is the US’s Israel/Palestine policy. What was promised at the end of the Gulf War by George H.W Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, to work to change the whole equation of the power balance between Israel and the Palestinians has long ago expired.

American presidents have come and gone, but Jewish settlements on Palestinian soil continue to expand and savage acts by Israel’s security forces continue unabated, even though Palestinian attacks on Israel result in much lower casualties than vice versa. (In August, many Palestinian children were killed in an Israeli attack.) Most well-educated Israelis realize this policy is unviable in the long run, as do the leaders of Mossad, its secret service, but the right-wing parties and the determination of Israel’s most successful politician, Benjamin Netanyahu, make a substantial change in policy highly unlikely.

At some point, the Palestinians, having knocked their heads against the wall at home, will focus their wrath on America, since they see clearly that the US is not prepared to twist the Israeli arms in a fashion that would bring major change. Part of this is because of Western guilt over the Holocaust, which the Allies could have done much more than they did to limit.

The second is the powerful influence on Congress and the government of the Jewish lobby. We should expect to see some prominent American politicians being assassinated. Ex-presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama may have security guards but, compared with those protecting an in-office president, they are small and could be easily overcome. Their wives are even more vulnerable. (Once I was at a book fair where Clinton spoke. There were only four guards, and I was four paces away from him.)

The US has started paying the price for its malevolent policies, but the worst is still to come. There is much good in American society. But the country misuses its strength. It is provocative and counterproductive. As the Pope said about the origins of the Ukraine conflict, NATO has for years been “barking” at Russia. He was referring to the continuous expansion eastward of NATO’s border, despite solemn promises made to Russia at the end of the Cold War not to.

The West has no policy of how to deal with Russia in the long run—I mean over the next half century. But if it doesn’t get one containing more sensibility and moral sense this war in Ukraine could well be the worst of chickens that come home to roost, leaving a legacy of embittered East-West relations by nuclear-armed opposites that could end in the worst of ways, even nuclear war.

About the author: The writer was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune, now the New York Times. He has also written dozens of columns for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He is the European who has appeared most on the opinion pages of these papers. Visit his website: [IDN-InDepthNews — 16 August 2022]

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IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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