Oui, c’est l’Europe, depuis l’Atlantique jusqu’à l’Oural, c’est toute l’Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde.

Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the fate of the world.

Charles de Gaulle

Economic impacts such as the ruble’s slide in Russia have been heralded in some influential media outlets as a sign that economic sanctions led against Russia by the United States of America are achieving their aims. What aims are those, exactly?

Barack Obama: a skilled diplomat and balancing artist who (I would argue) manages to maintain both his progressive credentials and the satisfaction of hawkish foreign policy hardliners in Washington. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

None of the United States’ preferences for a “political” outcome in Ukraine are tenable, and the idea of eliminating Vladimir Putin – presented as an assumed conclusion in the Reuters article linked above – is even dumber. Who would take Putin’s place? Even the US private intelligence firm Stratfor tells us that Medvedev and Shoigu are his most likely successors – and both men favor even more aggressive Russian involvement in Ukraine. Read George Friedman’s analysis under the subheading “Imagining Russia After Putin” to get that perspective. The US will find no good alternatives to the pragmatic Putin, just as Russia will find no good alternatives to the pragmatic Obama. It is a great tragedy that both leaders are incapable of silencing the hardliners in their camps, but that is the nature of politics.

Despite the economic sanctions placed on it, Russia has not altered its policy in any way, and Ukraine’s own misery has only increased as a result of this hostile economic campaign initiated by the US. Exactly who is being saved from Vladimir Putin’s “aggression” by the sanctions?The United States’ Cold War-style anti-Russian propaganda has no answer to that question, just as it has no recommendations on a more pragmatic successor to Vladimir Putin. As Clausewitz consistently warned the students of war, if one has no realistic political outcome in mind, no display of strength – economic or military – can be of any help. You can have all the power in the world, but if you don’t know what you want, you’re going to fail. The US has no vision for a political settlement in Ukraine or a new regime in Russia, so its policies in both countries are doomed to failure. No one, Obama included, can see what the US is trying to accomplish in Ukraine, so the idea that any observer might actually agree with the US course in Ukraine is astonishing.

Sanctions always fail, and Obama knows the long and miserable history of failed US-led sanctions better than anyone else, as is demonstrated by his recent actions. While he was signing new sanctions into effect against Russia to satisfy the Republican war hawks who currently swarm both Congress and the Senate, he was busy pushing to remove the failed sanctions off Cuba and Iran – just as Nixon eventually gave in to the People’s Republic of China and accepted its legitimacy. Obama knew the United States’ sanctions against Cuba and Iran were doomed to failure, and had to be reversed before the United States got carried away on a slippery slope of sanctioning everyone it disagrees with. To effectively maintain sanctions on Russia without damaging its own economy, the United States had to unconditionally end its sanctions against at least two other countries – specifically Cuba (hence the restored diplomatic relations) and Iran (hence the strong commitment to resolving disputes with Iran via the nuclear talks).

The fact America can’t sanction Russia without taking the sanctions off Cuba and Iran with no preconditions proves how sanctions are hopeless and weak, and cannot achieve political aims. Further, Obama’s moves for abandoning sanctions against “rogue states” Cuba and Iran sends the cheeky message to US hardliners that Obama doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of economic sanctions at all. They are simply a way for the President to look tough at home for a short time, but since they are a multi-decade effort (much like the so-called anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq) Obama and his team will never have to shoulder the costs of their eventual failure. Like Bush, Obama will leave his wars to his successor. We’ll no doubt witness Mr Obama ridiculing his successor in future, and blaming his own “multi-year” quagmires on that sorry President-to-be. Eventually, two or three presidents down the road, the sanctions on Russia will be removed without achieving anything, but Obama will probably be reduced to such obscurity by then that no-one will blame him for his failed policy.

The US government’s fears over possible consequences of anti-Russian sanctions on its own economy are the reason Obama has essentially given up his sanctions against Cuba and Iran. Neither Cuba nor Iran had to do anything for the United States’ arrogant position to collapse. Based on this model, the best course of action for Russia to beat the United States’ sanctions is to continue its present policy until the United States backs down – which of course it will. Because the United States is weak, it has backed down on every major foreign policy it has ever pursued, and it will also be the first to back down from its present mistake that the people of Ukraine are paying for with their lives. If the United States could not crush the small, oil-dependent economies of Cuba or Iran with its so-called sanctions, how likely is the United States to succeed against a much larger economy like Russia?

Obama is an intelligent careerist in the midst of all this, who knows the sanctions on Russia will prove as weak and feeble as they were against Cuba and Iran, and the only future for these sanctions is that they will eventually be lifted without achieving any political results within Russia. Obama won’t witness the failure of his policies, so he gets to escape with a reasonably clean record as President.

No regime – not even Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – has ever been toppled via the use of sanctions, and sanctions have only further embittered relations between the United States and the rest of the world. They confirm the analysis that the United States still culturally has an arrogant, colonial mentality with regard to other powers, seeing them as rebellious and non-compliant residents of its own global police-murder state rather than independent powers.

Because it is obsessed with conquest and plunder, the United States will never recognize Russia, Iran or China as independent states, and will always speak arrogantly of those other powers like it is their master. Circling the carcasses of other states to nourish itself, America is just like the nasty, vulturous and shabby bird used on its Presidential Seal.

By Harry J. Bentham HJB Signature and stamp

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