Monday, February 15, 2016
Parting Company with Peter Hitchens and Why Leadership Matters
Mr. Hitchens is always quick to begin by stressing that he believes Vladimir Putin to be a cruel and tyrannical despot before launching into a full-throated defense of the man, his regime, all it does and even his allies such as the Ayatollah in Iran (who Mr. Hitchens maintains is not nearly so dangerous as he pretends to be or that the rest of the world thinks he is, chants of “Death to England” not withstanding). Actually, there is, as it concerns Russia at least, some areas in which I still agree with him on. I can see as clearly as anyone, as Mr. Hitchens has pointed out, that it has been Russian power that has been shrinking and the membership of NATO and the European Union that has been expanding. I agree with him that Russia is quite right to be upset by foreign meddling in bordering countries and, while I will not say the same for Europe, I certainly would accept that what happens in the Caucasus or Ukraine (or even the Baltic, Poland or Finland) does not involve the vital interests or national security of the United States. Were America to pull out of Eastern Europe and Russia to swallow all of these countries tomorrow it would have no impact on anyone in North America at all. Where I do disagree with Mr. Hitchens is on the nature of the European Union and his view on its foreign policy in regards to Russia. It seems to me he is being quite inconsistent on the issue of “leadership”.
On almost every occasion that I can recall, in which Mr. Hitchens talks about Russia, he makes a point of saying that while he defends Russia today he totally opposed the Soviet Union. He stresses that the Soviet Union is dead and gone, Russia today is nothing at all like the Soviet Union and that the Soviet Union had global aspirations which Russia today does not have or desire. This is, in my view, not entirely wrong but it is inconsistent when compared to his portrayal of the European Union and particularly Germany. He is saying that Germany has natural drives which influence German foreign policy in a similar direction, no matter if it is a Bundeskanzler, Führer or Kaiser at the helm of the ship of state. However, at the same time he is saying that Russia has no such similar natural drives that would influence Russian foreign policy regardless of the governments that come and go in leading the Russian people. This is where things become a bit complicated but suffice it to say that, on the contrary, I believe there are certain trends in foreign policy that prevail because of things as permanent and immovable as geography but I also think it matters a great deal just what sort of government and what sort of leader a country, such as Germany or Russia, has at its head.
On the Russian side of things, it is true, the nature of the current Russian regime is not the same as the Soviet Union but I disagree with Mr. Hitchens that there are no similarities in policy at all and I most adamantly disagree with him that the current Russian regime is in any way preferable to the Russian Empire under the Romanov dynasty, a view he has also expressed. While Putin has got many things right, taking actions I think a man like Czar Nicholas II would approve of, he has also done horrible things that no self-respecting Romanov would ever dream of doing. If Czar Nicholas II were around to deal with post-Soviet Russian leaders, I think he would have had Yeltsin shot as a traitor and would think Putin possibly insane. This is not to take the popular view, mostly fostered by knee-jerk anti-Russian sentiment in the west (mirrored by similar knee-jerk anti-western or anti-American sentiment in Russia) that Putin is some sort of bloodthirsty warmonger out to conquer and dominate as much of the world as possible. On the contrary, while I think there are actions Putin has taken which no Czar ever would have, I also think he has failed to take action and submitted to treatment by the western powers that the Czar would never have tolerated. Even Czar Nicholas II, one of the most mild mannered of his dynasty, was a man who may not have always won but who never failed to at least make every effort.
Czar Nicholas II, for example, would never have allied himself with Communist China. He certainly would never have ceded them territory or granted them special access to Russian natural resources. Even their fellow communists of the Soviet era had more sense than to help arm and enrich an ambitious country with a huge population right at their backdoor. For the Czar there was a principle in mind, as he saw himself as the guardian of Christian civilization as the Russians had always been since the dissolution of the Mongol empire. There was also practical reality to consider. Centuries of experience, including their own subjugation by the Mongols out of which modern Russia was born, made the Czar realize that Russia stretched rather precariously across the Asian continent and was determined to prevent any other power from threatening Russia’s position. If anyone tried, be it the Persians (Iranians), the British in India or the Chinese they would be met by a wall of Russian steel. When Japan began to rise in power and influence in the Far East, starting with the occupation of Korea, Czar Nicholas II made it perfectly clear that if they wanted to be dominant in the region they would have a fight on their hands. Russia lost the war but Japan ultimately did not feel like a winner and most of Manchuria and all of Mongolia remained within the Russian sphere of influence until the Russian Revolution. To befriend, arm and enrich a country like China in what simply seems to be an effort to frighten countries which China is not even able to reach, would, I think, strike the Czar as baffling.
However, what about Eastern Europe? Here finally is an area where Mr. Hitchens and President Putin have a much better case to make. As stated earlier, the EU has been expanding far faster and to a far greater extent compared to Russia’s miniscule gains against Georgia or the annexation of Crimea. The inclusion of countries such as Finland, the Baltic states and Poland into NATO is something which no one with any common sense should have expected any Russian government worth its salt to simply accept. And yet, there is the problem and it is a problem of inaction rather than the actions Russia has taken in Asia. Because, Russian governments, Putin included, have accepted it and so it has become a fact of life that will stand firm until such time as the American voters grow tired of shouldering the risk and financial burden of standing guard over a continent whose peoples thoroughly despises them and whose independence or subjugation would have no impact on their lives at all. It is though, in the Balkans where I think rests the most glaring difference between modern Russian foreign policy and the foreign policy of a traditional Romanov monarch like Czar Nicholas II. Western anti-Putin or anti-Russian controversialists who like to paint Vladimir Putin as a warmonger should pay attention to this example because it disproves their narrative completely and that example is Kosovo.
Finally, just to bring it back to Germany and the European Union, leadership matters in this instance as well. The European Union does not stand for the German domination of Europe and a leader like Kaiser Wilhelm II would never be party to such a monstrosity as the current EU. I firmly believe this is so because, contrary to what some may think (though I fail to see how), the EU does not benefit Germany in any way, no more than it benefits any other country which is to say not at all. The German people gain nothing from the EU, indeed, they have only served to be milked like a cow by it. The Germans are not dominating Europe by the EU but rather are simply the guilt-ridden beast of burden that the EU bureaucrats, from various countries, are using to carry them to a life of wealth and power while the heart of western civilization is going to ruin. The EU political class has benefited from the EU but no country has benefited from it at all. The wealthier countries are exploited by it, they give and others take but even the most indebted member states, such as Greece, no more benefit from the EU than an addict benefits from his drug dealer. I will say though, to end on a note that Peter Hitchens just might agree with me on, whereas I do think President Putin has made some astounding errors, I do not think he can be compared to the leadership of those in power in countries such as Germany or Sweden or even the United States under Barrack Obama who, by their actions, have forced me to conclude that their “mistakes” are quite deliberate, that they generally despise their own people and are intentionally doing them harm. None more so, it seems, than Germany. Far from being about dominating Europe, the Germans will be lucky to even survive as a people thanks to the policies of the EU and their own government in Berlin.