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America should have overcome its Cold War hangover

If the war prolongs and results in further isolation of Russia, retribution could be on its way. This will make the world less peaceful. Russia will aggressively back any regime arrayed against the US, creating hotspots (Photo: Reuters)Premium
If the war prolongs and results in further isolation of Russia, retribution could be on its way. This will make the world less peaceful. Russia will aggressively back any regime arrayed against the US, creating hotspots (Photo: Reuters)

While Russia’s Putin may have no democratic propensities, the West’s proclaimed objective of a democratic Russia was badly served by Nato’s triumphalist expansionism after the Cold War

The US-led coalition has succeeded in virtually isolating Russia for its “operation" in Ukraine. Russia has become the ‘great Satan’, as the US was often portrayed in the Cold War’s heydays. The tables have turned. The US-led alliance has galvanised the cooperation of even the traditionally neutral states like Sweden and Switzerland, and is winning the propaganda war.

Almost all Western TV channels are falling over each other to portray Russia in the worst light possible, re-running images in their use of subliminal advertising techniques. Even the BBC, famous for objectivity, has morphed into a kind of Cold War Radio Free Europe, the CIA-run channel that would beam propaganda into the USSR and its allies.

In a world is bombarded by 24x7 by one-sided news, who will look at history? In an age when the attention span of humans is less than that of a goldfish, who will deep dive to ascribe primary responsibility for the Ukrainian crisis and ask if the Russian leadership is as demonic as the West would have us think?

It is not that Putin has democratic propensities. But if the West’s proclaimed objective is to finally have a democratic Russia, its triumphalist policies after the dismemberment of the USSR have not helped. It has spawned the opposite outcome. It was also no coincidence that the only pope to be selected from eastern Europe, John Paul II of Poland, was ushered into the Vatican in 1978. It was he who exhorted fellow countrymen to “fear not" when the CIA was financing the solidarity movement in Poland. But Washington did not stop there. When the USSR collapsed, the US began its “ill-considered" decision to expand Nato, opined a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American commentator. The alliance expanded to include countries under the former USSR’s sphere of influence.

Even the US defense secretary Bill Perry under president Bill Clinton lamented the folly of US support for Nato expansion. He opined that in the initial years after the Cold War, the US and Russia were working closely, and the latter was beginning to view Nato as a friend. But it was “uncomfortable" to see Nato expand to its borders and appealed for restraint. But the US saw it as an opportunity to finish off the remnants of its old enemy. A hawkish Senate ratified Nato expansion in 1998. George Kennan, who sowed the seeds of success on the USSR’s containment, said it would beget a new cold war and that Moscow would react. He called it a “tragic mistake".

And what did Joseph R. Biden Jr, the current US president and prime mover then of the ratification effort and a key figure on the US Foreign Relations Committee, say? That it was “the beginning of another 50 years of peace." It was not. An insecure Russia went on to annex Georgia in 2008.

And what does the Biden-led brigade want the world to believe? That Russia is guilty of targeting civilians and committing war crimes. Without independent verification, we can only say it may or may not be. But it is certain that if it did not care about civilians, it could’ve done what US General Curtis E. LeMay said the US should do in Vietnam: bomb it “back into the stone age."

And what is the US record on war? America and its allies mercilessly decimated retreating Iraqi forces, using even cluster bombs, during the 1991 Desert Storm. It became a killing field made infamous as the ‘Highway of Death’. And the ‘free press’ that is accusing Russia of curbing press freedom even refused to publish a photo taken by Kenneth Jarecke of a desperate Iraqi soldier who was incinerated. Slightly over a decade later, to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was invaded by a US-UK led force. More than 80,000 civilians were injured and over 200,000 killed in “direct war related" violence, revealed a study by Brown University. If the political and military leaders of the participant nations are charged with war crimes, it would perhaps support the humanitarian case for prosecuting Putin and his military brass. If not, how can anyone blame Putin even if he uses the doctrine of ‘pre-emptive strike’ that George W. Bush said is embedded in Article 51 of the UN charter and that he invoked to justify his “war of choice", in Iraq in 2003 (only one of the 17 instances of such US military interventions since World War II)?

Today, anyone who questions US interventions may be accused of being anti-democratic. But during the Bangladesh war of 1971, the US ordered a task force of eight ships led by aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in support of Pakistan. It did not matter that India was (and is) the largest democracy.

The West is also supplying Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated arms. But it knows that it would not alter the conflict’s outcome. It will only give hapless Ukrainians the false hope that they can fight and win. It will lead to further civilian misery, though it’ll make Russia look bad, which may be the motive.

If the war prolongs and results in further isolation of Russia, retribution could be on its way. This will make the world less peaceful. Russia will aggressively back any regime arrayed against the US, creating hotspots. It will also provide added impetus to a Russian-Sino partnership that will immensely benefit China, whose policies can be more lethal to global stability and peace than those of Putin. Russian technology and Chinese money can be a deadly cocktail. And that would not be good for democracy.

It would be wise to heed the advice of the most successful US strategist whose policies successfully contained the Soviet Union. Biden cannot be compared to Kennan.

Thomas Mathew is a former civil servant and senior functionary of the Indian defence ministry.

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