I mentioned that I’m looking for a gig in Looking for a Gig; Korea-Russia-Nuclear-Putin-KGB-China Sea. Since this blog has a spike in traffic, I mention it again.
In the past three years, I’ve written 300,000 words in well constructed sentences on a variety of subjects. The slant is a little different from conventional news verbiage, but beneficial as supplement. Politico’s article, Why It’s Hard to Take Democrats Seriously on Russia, is instructive. It is historically accurate, though benefiting from hindsight. What it lacks, which is why Henry Kissinger still visits the White House, is relation to the better historical examples of diplomacy.
The history of diplomacy intertwines with much of the regrettable history of conflict. Perhaps this is why it is not referenced much with respect to current problems. In contrast to other fields where expertise is valued, the political process propels into the upper echelons of power people who know no more about it than the typical well rounded person. When media such as Politico measure their results, the reference frame is derived from domestic politics. This leaves out a lot.
In the depths of the Cold War, continuity was maintained by a brain trust that bridged the parties, resulting from the universally accepted policy of Containment. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Containment became, at least temporarily, irrelevant. But since 2001, a new problem set, terrorism, an ambiguous Russia, European realignments, the rise of China, all in the context of a complex multipolar world, have found no consensus. So each new administration starts de novo, ignoring the perspective of an adversary or competitor with experience of of two or three administrations, and a sense of history that goes back at least a hundred years.
With modern innovation, our democratic process has roots in the primitive methods by which tribes and clans have chosen leaders; a mix of consensus, accolade and honorable ritual combat. It defines character as reliably acting in the partisan interest, and favors character over intellect. This tradition, not the Constitution, is the rock-bottom basis of delegation of powers. (The U.K. has no constitution. The office of Prime Minister of Australia exists only by tradition and convention. So much for forms.) Until recently, with two hundred plus years of delegation established as much by precedent as the Constitution we could say, “so far so good.”
But now the conflict between the White House and Congress, rooted in fear of collusion with Russia, threatens the Constitutional backstop, which relies as much on tradition and interpretation as the words themselves. As much as the desire to retaliate against Russia, this is the fear that drives the sanctions bill: that Trump might give away the store. Even in the presidency of Gerald Ford, whose impeccability benefited from association with hardliner Richard Nixon, this was an issue. From a White House press memorandum on SALT II (Ford Library):
Q: Senator Jackson says he does not like the Vladivostok agreement because it sets levels too high and leaves advantages in throw weight for the Soviets. Also, he raises the question of whether there were any secret agreements made in Vladivostok. Can you comment on these points?
Can sanctions bring about a change in the behavior of an adversary? In supple hands, yes. But the goal to be bought is change, not pure retribution. The Jackson-Vanik amendment attempted to open the Soviet Union to emigration. An important symbol of U.S. commitment to freedom, it fell short in result, because it publicly challenged Soviet sovereignty. Quoting WIkipedia,
At first the Jackson–Vanik amendment did little to help free Soviet Jewry. The number of exit visas declined after the passing of the amendment. However, in the late 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to comply with the protocols of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lazin (2005) states that scholars differ on how effective the amendment was in helping Soviet Jews. Some argue that it helped bring the plight of Soviet Jews to the world's attention, while others believe it hindered emigration and decreased America's diplomatic bargaining power.
If supple hands can be found and trusted by Congress, sanctions must be re-enabled as a bargaining chip. The satisfaction of retribution must not be bought with the same coin that could buy real gains.
Internationalist foreign policy has been shown the door, replaced by a slogan, “America First.” There are now at least three policy centers. the White House, Rex Tillerson, and Congress, all presumably guided by a two-word idea. Kennan’s Long Telegram , the basis of Containment, has 5,363 words. It brings to mind an idea about dinosaurs, who were thought to have had larger brains in their posteriors than in their heads.
Sadly for us, the posterior brain could not hold an idea. It could only move the legs. And like it or not, we are shuffling along, making history. Ten years from now, will that history be to our liking? The great figures of early modern diplomacy had organic conceptions of their nations. Predating democracy, the rights of man, and modern economies, their goals and perspectives were different from ours. But their consummate skills are sources for emulation.
As a quasi living organism, every nation exists in an ecology that is constantly changing. Simply to remain healthy involves constant rebalancing and adaptation. Two words can’t tell us how, where, or why.
A nation has a childhood, an adulthood, and a decline. Unlike the creatures of nature, there exists at least the possibility of renewal or rebirth at any time. We have seen this in China. But to beat the odds, we have to be both wise and smart. The words have different connotations. Wisdom suggests productive use of past experience. Smart implies new thinking, outside the box.
Can we be both wise and smart? I think maybe George Costanza has the right idea. I’ll do a write-in next election.