The United States chortled with glee about Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian Su-24 on November 24 and the Pentagon called it «a sovereign act of self-defence». It wilfully ignored the fact that even if the Russian pilot had indeed mistakenly violated Turkish airspace there was not, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, the tiniest threat to Turkey.
Even the Turks say that the alleged incursion was «for 17 seconds from 9.24.05 local time».
It is bizarre to the point of psychosis to suggest that this could pose a threat requiring «self-defence». But rationality about Russia is not greatly in evidence in the United States at the moment, and in this context it is interesting to examine the attitudes to Russia of the rivals for the US Presidency.
The President of the United States of America has a comparatively small salary, the responsibilities involved, but in spite of the modest recompense there are always many people eager to be elected to the Office which next falls vacant (or even more vacant) at midday on January 20, 2017. The initial selection process will continue through 2016 with ever-increasing intensity until the Republicans and Democrats hold their Conventions (just before the Olympics) to decide who their candidates will be in the final play-off.
The Democrats won’t have too much trouble because they have only three people going forward, and their most appealing candidate, Bernie Sanders, is a democratic socialist who supports civil liberties, universal healthcare and other measures designed to benefit ordinary citizens, so he hasn’t a hope of getting the Party’s nomination. One final nail in his coffin was his statement on 19 November that in regard to the terrorist threat «we must work to expand the coalition with Russia».
The equally decent, open-minded, and principled Martin O’Malley, until recently Governor of Maryland, is against the death penalty and supports gun control, which is political death. The National Rifle Association has loads of devotees and bottomless magazines of cash and they’ll destroy O’Malley for being «un-American» because he doesn’t support Guns For Everyone. He’ll get nowhere.
This leaves the Democrats with Hillary Clinton, a skilful political tap-dancer who says that «the US needs to do more to confront Russian President Putin [because of] his determined policy to sabotage American interests whenever and wherever he can». She is «convinced that we need a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia».
In February 2015 Clinton met with an erratic British politician called Boris Johnson who afterwards revealed indiscreetly that «she thought the Europeans were being too wimpy [weak and cowardly] in dealing with Putin» and «her general anxiety was that Putin, if unchallenged and unchecked, would continue to expand his influence in the perimeter of what was the Soviet Union».
On 5 October Reuters reported that Clinton «said removing President Bashar al-Assad is the top priority in Syria». Presumably she would have welcomed his removal in the same way as the elimination of President Gaddafi of Libya when, as she recounted, laughing, in 2011, «We came; we saw; he died». (The YouTube video of her giggling declaration is nauseating – but indicative of what the likely future president of the United States finds hilarious.)
If Clinton becomes President there will be further intensification of the present malevolent confrontation with Russia, and her Republican opponents appear to be right up there with her in maximum aggression mode.
There are some dozen Republican candidates, and it’s interesting to record what the main contenders have to say about Russia.
The one female, Carly Fiorina, is blunt about Russia, saying that «Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all ... We've talked way too much to him... What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defence program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message».
Then Senator Marco Rubio declared that «I believe the world is a stronger and a better place when the United States is the strongest military power in the world... I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know he is a gangster». ABC News reported that his «direct fire earned him applause from the debate hall».
Ohio’s Governor John Kasich was an investment banker from 2001 until he quit when his employer, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 causing global chaos. During a television debate on November 11 (the New York Times transcript is terrifying in what it reveals of the shallowness, casual venom, parochial bigotry and appalling ignorance of the candidates), Kasich waxed eloquent about Russia, saying that «in the eastern part of Europe, make sure that Finland and the Baltics know that if the Russians move, we move. In Syria, yes, a no-fly zone in the north on the Turkish border, a no-fly zone on the south on the Jordanian border. Anybody flies in the first time, maybe they can fly out. They fly in there a second time, they will not fly out..».
Candidate Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and brother of the catastrophic George W, speaks of international affairs with familial insularity and intolerance, contending that «without American leadership every other country in the neighbourhood [the Middle East] begins to change their priorities. It is tragic that you see Iraq, and other countries now talking to Russia. It wasn’t that long ago that Russia had no influence in the region at all. And, so, the United States needs to lead across the board».
Last but most likely of the Republicans is Donald Trump, a grotesque figure of sinister comedy, but one who, in the strange tempo of our times, currently attracts most approval from Republican voters. It is difficult to believe anything that is said by Trump, as his pronouncements swing from the seemingly sane (if mundane) to the downright lunatic, but at the moment he is the most serious Republican contender. He was reported as attacking «President Obama and Hillary Clinton for having destroyed relations with Russia and China. In contrast, he said he instinctively thought he would get along with the Russian president». (There might be two schools of thought about that.)
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It is likely that the either the spiteful buffoon Trump or the venomous vicious Clinton will be next President of the United States of America, but whatever happens, the world should be prepared for continuation of uncompromising venom against Russia – to the point of increasing military confrontation.
They would be wise to heed what President Putin said at the UN General Assembly last September, when he observed, without naming the perpetrators, that the US-NATO military grouping had interfered militarily around the world with disastrous consequences, because in the Middle East and surrounding regions «aggressive foreign interference has resulted in brazen destruction of national institutions and lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life. I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you’ve done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned».
The trouble is that every one of the likely candidates for the US Presidency believes in policies based on self-conceit, exceptionality and impunity. There is no possibility whatever that these are going to be abandoned in continuation of the US policy of seeking world domination. On present evidence it seems the future President of the US will confront Russia energetically. But that President would be well-advised to have a long cool think about such a strategy, because times are changing, and the «one indispensable nation in world affairs», as President Obama so repeatedly has described it, will have to take the views and aspirations of other nations into account. Or suffer the consequences.