Thursday, April 20, 2006

Izvestia Interview with Leon Aron - Only the G8 Summit Can Break Iran

Evgenie Baj of Izvestia has an interview with political sociologist and resident scholar Dr. Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute regarding the cooling of attitudes between the US and Russia. Dr. Aron discusses the areas of mutual interest between the US and Russia and gives his rather optimistic forecast for compromise between the two nations.

I think Dr. Aron is being diplomatic in his assessment, but it is likely at time when diplomacy is necessary. I think both the US and Russia have been moving at rather more deliberate cross-purposes than Leon Aron presumes. However, it is likely better to focus on new agreements and working towards common goals, than continued actions to undermine each nations interests.

The American press has determined that the attitudes between Washington and Moscow are going downhill. The US Congress and news media, the American "the fourth authority", have increased pressure upon President Bush, attempting to force him to reconsider attitudes towards the Russia Federation. [..] The Washington Post has announced its verdict "The debate is over: Russia is not a democracy". But not so long ago, the same newspaper wrote that in the USA there are different centers of authority which influence decision-making concerning Russia. On the one hand is Vice-President Dick Cheney who calls for a tough policy towards Russia, and on the other is Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, insisting on a more balanced approach. Has this debate really ended?

Leon Aron: Actually in the USA there is another, more global debate ongoing - about American national interests and Russia's place within this system of coordinates. Really, it is being said that attitudes are rapidly worsening. But within this phenomenon there is no sorcery or malicious intention, and there is a difference in the essence of these two schools of thought. In this case I understand the ruling elite, their agenda and ideology as modes.

The American policy is dominated by two tendencies. The first is defined by the consequences of the monstrous act of terrorism on September 11. From this point of view, the White House appreciates and will certainly continue to appreciate Russian cooperation. The priorities of the USA will still be the war on terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation - two areas in which Russia plays an important role. Recently these foreign policy objectives have received an improbable impulse because of the sharply increased danger of a nuclear weapon coming into the hands of the nations which then will supply them to terrorists.

Another mark from his father on this administration is its roots in neo-conservatism. And for them maintained communication essentially important, that the foreign state achieves on a world scene based upon how it behaves at home. In the USA there has been a returning to John Kennedy's slogan: "that we shall bear any burden and pay any price, to help democracy in the world". [note: Dr. Aron misquotes or paraphrases Kennedy here, the full quote is actually "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."]

Here also there is a dividing line between neo-conservatives and the so-called realists. For the last it is not so important, what occurs inside Russia, and it is more important how many Russian rockets there are and that we agree with them. Therefore, in my opinion, it would be more reasonable to look not at the difference of the ideological centers within Washington, but at these two tendencies which often conflict among themselves.

Izvestia: But it does not explain the increased mutual irritation between both Washington and Moscow?

Aron: I am absolutely convinced that Russian leadership does not willfully carry out an anti-American policy. And Washington does not aim to take an anti-Russian position. But in the USA, due to the dominate neo-conservatives within the administration, they begin to watch very intently what occurs within Russia. And Russia begins to trust the USA less, because they see these democracy nations turning against them. And in Moscow also there is a certain genetic predisposition towards Putin's policies. There was shame from the chaos and weakness of the 90's years, when Russia rode in the wake of the USA. In Moscow it has been decided, that the absolutely inadequate decentralization of policy and the economy has taken Russia in the wrong direction, and that now it is necessary to reanimate the role of the state, to use the highest authority to remove the "brilliance of the crown" and to approve the role of a ruling political party. These conclusions also dictate Russian foreign policy. In the opinion of the Kremlin leaders, it should be completely independent. If this policy is not pleasant to America, then so be it. In the Kremlin it is considered the best policy, and that Russia will be appreciated more as an independent power.

The trouble is that this policy, by virtue of the nature of a present political mode within the USA, is perceived as anti-American. And in Moscow the policy of the USA is also perceived. They witness the promotion or the so-called "planting" of democracy as it becomes a primary factor of American policy. And Moscow looks at the consequences of this policy in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and immediately forms the conclusion that these are anti-Russian actions. [..]

Izvestia: And nevertheless till 2008, little will change in the attitudes between these two leaders. Bush repeatedly has said, that he "will not hand over" Russia. And he obviously ignores appeals of Senator John McCain to exclude Russia from the G8.

Aron: McCain is not responsible for safety of America, and President Bush responds. And in the time while the administration that was burnt on September 11th is in power, it will measure seven times, before cutting off attitudes towards Russia. And in the policy priorities in the war on terror and nuclear non-proliferation it is necessary to include the power and influence of Russia. In fact here it is understood that it is better to pay Russia for oil, than to buy from other countries where the money flows to terrorists. But remember my words: in a year the pre-election debate will begin and we shall see very serious attacks upon Russia from John McCain. And in fact, he will be one of the most serious American presidential candidates from the Republicans. Besides, considering that elections will also be occuring in Russia, Washington will paying even greater attention to our country. Also be assured we will see many unpleasant things from the during these democratic procedures. The attention towards Russia is always amplified 12 to 18 months prior to presidential elections in the USA. So it was for both Yeltsin and Putin.

Izvestia: And what is your forecast for this time up to the elections in both countries?

Aron: Nothing catastrophic will occur. But it is necessary to tighten your seatbelts. The plane will not fall, but it will shake very strongly.

Izvestia: And it is obvious, quite good attitudes between Bush and Putin become property of history. The same attitudes any more will not be between the American and Russian leader who has come to power in Washington and Moscow.

Aron: it will not be exact. The last years the factor of personal attitudes between presidents in many respects defined the American policy in relation to Russia. In the middle of a monstrous shock which has shaken America on September, 11th, 2001 to Bush Putin with words of support has called. Such it is not forgotten. Also it is the main reason of that Bush will hold a former position concerning Putin and Russia.

Izvestia: In Moscow one of primary points of irritation is that America appears to make all new demands for the introduction of Russia into the WTO. Many Russian politicians perceive it as a desire to punish Russia for deviation from democracy.

Aron: It isn't so. Here, look first of all at the interests of business. And business representatives blame Russia for subsidizing the prices for energy carriers and infringement of intellectual property rights. But it not a political plot by the US administration.

Izvestia: And the nortorious Jackson-Vanik amendment?

Aron: Here is another algebra at work. The White House has spoken in every possible way for the amendments cancelling. But the current administration doesn't have the political capital to spend. It is already politically half-dead, bleeding profusely because of the war in Iraq. And in this situation, it remains to the US Congress and to pass through McCain - which means it is doomed to obvious defeat. The White House says: the amendment has become outdated and Russia has carried out of all obligations on free emigration from the country. But to Bush, they will object: what about the state of local democracy, and the absence of free elections, and the dependence of the press on the Kremlin, and Khodorkovsky's arrest?

Izvestia: In occasion of the forthcoming G8 summit, there are calls for Bush not to attend [..] What do you expect will occur?

Aron: It is assured, nothing will happen. The G8 is too serious and heavy a structure. To shake it, to try to take out one of columns, something to file - dangerously and unreasonably. But there is one element which can be dangerous to a forthcoming meeting. It is the crisis around Iran. If there happens to be a sharp deterioration of the crisis around the nuclear program of Iran, if there is the impression that Iran will not only create the nuclear bomb - already very few people doubt it - but that it is really determined to carry out its threats, and if the West will rise into a united front, and Russia says it will not be part of that, it will lead to a situation where the summit can not take place.

Izvestia: And what is your personal forecast?

Aron: I think, that it will not occur. Iran will continue to play for time. And Russia begins to show flexibility in every possible way. The first summit of club of the civilized states at which the President of Russia will be the head - is an extremely important step for the Kremlin. I have a impression that Moscow, will probably go on towards a certain compromise with the West over Iran.

Izvestia: And in your opinion, a compromise is possible?

Aron: Iran continues escalation of provocative applications. The difference expressed towards Moscow at its approach to the Iranian crisis was shown not only from the USA, but also by Western Europe. And, as the summit approaches, the desire within Moscow will probably ripen to prevent or at least to delay the occurence of an Iran with a nuclear bomb on the Russian border. Actually the Kremlin does not have many moves left. It will either condemn Iran or it will not condemn. I think that in the Kremlin they pray, that the conflict has not progressed to an uncontrollable stage before the summit. Because to speak about Bush personally, the administration, and the Congress, the impudence of Iran combined with the connivance of Moscow can provoke a big fire. And in this sense, the destiny of the summit depends on Tehran.

My apologies for the hack translation. While I can slowly get most of the understanding from a Russian news article, it takes me quite a while to work out a translation, and I am sure I don't get the grammar and meaning perfectly. I was fiddling with this translation a little bit on and off all day and only had time to complete it this evening.

For the most part, I agree with Dr. Aron, although I disagree with the Russian idea of the US "planting" democracy in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. Those countries rebelled against the status quo, of which Russia was a part. And if Russia had such great relations with those nations over 90 years (which seems to be the Russia perspective) than what could the US say in a few weeks to overturn that? It is like saying that you and your wife have been in love for 40 years, but 5 minutes on the dance floor with another man and she is leaving you. Meanwhile you blame the other man. If she left so quickly, it isn't because she was in love with you, buddy. It is because she was tired of picking up your dirty socks and sleeping next to you while you snored.

I think it is also unfortunate that the continued Russian perception of the economic ups and downs of the 1990s were the result of following US policies. In fact, I think the US gave very little advice or support in those years - Republicans love to point this out as a major failure of the Clinton administration. I personally see the economic upheavals in Russia during the 1990s as being due to the rapid changes which happened in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US role in that was rather small. It is a natural human tendency to look outside for causes, than to look inside for the real reasons.

Revisiting these issues really isn't important, however. Of greater importance is working towards further diplomatic agreements and our nation's common goals.


RC Administrator said...

Doubt the West and current Russia's illegitimate regime will ever be more than just unfriendly enemies to be honest.

And it is not by chance that the word democracy has been attached to the Yeltsin times, this being a result of a massive propaganda campaign. Anti-Orange campaign is also a massive massive business.

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