A few years in prison must give one a clear perspective on power relationships.
An inmate can’t afford to choose his friends on the basis of moral, cultural or intellectual affinity. He’ll form an alliance with a murderer against a rapist, or with a rapist against a murderer, or with a Mafia don against either.
One can sympathise with the resultant worldview, but it can’t be readily applied to life on the out. In offering a blanket solution to all Middle East problems, Conrad Black seems to ignore this conundrum.
In his article How Trump Can Sort Out the Middle East, Lord Black argues that the US should form an alliance with Russia and Turkey.
This masterstroke would counteract the threat of Iran and, as a fringe benefit, keep Russia out of China’s clutches. Such is the strategy pursued by Lord Black’s friend Donald. However, his noble efforts are being frustrated by the enemies of everything good: the Democrats:
“The problem the administration has faced is that Russia as an issue has been so aggravated by Democratic myth-makers, with the (presumably) inadvertent cooperation of some congressional Republicans, that it has been very difficult for Trump to deal with Russia sensibly without exciting partisan hysteria and crowding the Democratic television news networks with the tiresome faces and voices of Obama’s now-discredited intelligence chiefs (James Clapper and John Brennan), beating the old tambourines about Russia determining U.S. elections.”
The underlying syllogism is simple: Trump gave Black a full pardon; the Democrats are after Trump; ergo, anything they say is malicious, self-serving and wrong. Yet, though my feelings about today’s Democratic Party are similar to Lord Black’s, that old saw says that even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day.
Even if Russia didn’t “determine US elections”, she certainly tried to skew them towards Trump – that has been established. What’s lacking is prima facie evidence of a collusion between Trump and Putin.
There exists, however, much evidence of Trump’s numerous hagiographic statements about the KGB colonel, versus not a single critical one. This is augmented by Trump’s manly resistance to sanctions on Russia.
These were pushed through by Congress, with Trump fighting to delay the sanctions or slow down their implementation. Considering his former ties with Russia’s Mafiosi ‘oligarchs’, Congress has every reason to be apprehensive about Trump’s overtures to Putin.
Lord Black’s judgement of Russia combines prison-like amorality with staggering ignorance:
“Russia is a great nation and civilization, but it is not now a great power like the U.S. and China; it is an economic paper tiger with a GDP smaller than Canada’s… It is an overwhelmingly corrupt country…, wallowing in the frustrations of having gambled everything built up in 300 years from Peter the Great to Stalin in a relatively bloodless world struggle with the United States and its allies (when the U.S. had useful allies because of their self-interest), and of having lost. The danger Russia presents now is that if the United States adds to Russia’s humiliations, it could drive Russia into the arms of China, and millions of people from China’s surplus manpower could exploit the untapped resources of Siberia on a royalty basis.”
What exactly used to make Russia a great power, a status she has now lost? One has to infer from Lord Black’s turgid prose that, while Russia’s economy is now a paper tiger, it used to merit a simile with a rampaging elephant.
If that’s what he thinks, he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. When the USSR’s superpower status was unquestioned, her economy was worse off than it is today.
To name just one category, the USSR was then the world’s biggest importer of grain, whereas today’s Russia is one of the biggest exporters. Yet one way or the other, her population lived from hand to mouth, at best, as it does now.
Russia’s exalted position was owed not to the grain silos, but to the missile variety. Her strength didn’t come from the overall economy, and it still doesn’t. It has always been based on Russia’s ability to blackmail the West with nuclear annihilation.
That was the culmination and just about sum total of “everything built up in 300 years from Peter the Great to Stalin”, and a Western commentator ought to shudder in revulsion. Instead, Lord Black repeats verbatim Putin’s propaganda stance on Russian history reaching its apex under Stalin.
Black’s line of thought betokens prison mentality. Putin glorifies Stalin; Trump is Putin’s friend; Trump exonerated Black; ergo, both Stalin and Putin are great builders of an empire now humiliatingly lost.
Thus Russia’s brittle sensibilities must be protected against further humiliation by inviting her to dominate the Middle East through her Turkish proxy. As to “driving Russia into the arms of China”, I wouldn’t worry about that.
It has already happened, with China effectively colonising Russia’s Far East and turning the country into a vassalage. This includes military cooperation, as shown by various joint exercises, such as the latest naval ones, also involving Iran.
Lord Black’s assessment of Turkey is equally inane: “The European Union’s rejection of Turkey (completely unlike the relatively generous treatment in trade and political matters accorded by the United States and Canada to Mexico) pushed Turkey back toward the Arab world, from which it had been expelled in World War I.”
That “rejection” is perhaps the only good thing the EU has ever done. And the relative generosity Black talks about didn’t involve an automatic right of all Turks to settle in the US or Canada.
However, admitting Turkey to the EU would have meant just that to Europe. Somehow, the EU decided that the 19 million Muslims living there is a high enough number already, without an influx of 80 million Turks.
It’s not the EU’s rejection but Islam that pushes Turkey towards the Arabs. But Lord Black doesn’t think in such terms. The word ‘Islam’ doesn’t feature in his article, distorting as it might have done the picture of a Quixotic Trump charging the windmills of the Democrats.
As far as Lord Black is concerned, Islam is an irrelevance. Hence, while accusing the Democrats of myth-making, he makes a few myths of his own:
“Pressure from Iran and Turkey and the disintegration of Iraq and Syria (thanks largely to the United States, though its policymakers had not sought that objective) have effectively caused the leading Arab powers to abandon their hostility to Israel, which was always essentially just a distraction of the Arab masses from the misgovernment their rulers were inflicting on them.”
Someone has forgotten to tell the Israelis that the Arabs are no longer hostile to them, as a result of pressure applied by Iran. One wonders how the ayatollahs reconcile such pressure with their daily screams about wiping Israel off the map. As to the diversionary tactic of distracting “the Arab masses”, this is kindergarten stuff.
Muslim hostility to Jews and Christians predates the founding of Israel in 1948. This animus is an essential part of Muslim doctrine, with at least 300 Koran verses explicitly calling for killing infidels.
For 1,400 years, Muslim emirs, caliphs and sultans have been doing their level best to practise what Mohammed preached. But Lord Black lacks an historical perspective: he thinks strictly in realpolitik terms.
There’s nothing wrong with some pragmatism and even amorality in geopolitical thinking. This Lord Black proves by correctly decrying “the stark bankruptcy of George W. Bush’s Iraq War”.
But what he proposes instead is cloud cuckoo land. If Lord Black’s friend Donald acts on his prescriptions, Russia will dominate the Middle East, playing the ends of Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran against the middle.
In addition to assuaging Putin’s wounded pride, this will establish his evil kleptofascist regime as the powerbroker in the region, with the US merely bringing up the rear.
Some realpolitik, yes, by all means. At times alliances with evil powers are necessary, as Britain proved in the Second World War by siding with Stalin. But that was designed to prevent capitulation. Lord Black’s prescriptions, on the other hand, are tantamount to it.