Archive for January 24th, 2015

JC

This week’s State of the Union Address by President Obama gives us another opportunity to peek into how America’s propaganda system works. While there are many places to observe this — foreign policy, the economy and employment — it is the constant isolationist drumbeat driving our country into a renewed Cold War with Russia that I’m going to focus on today.

Undoubtedly there will be those who will pooh-pooh me for a variety of reasons, but so be it. While our domestic situation with the economy, employment and debt is dire, I think that it is the specter of what the new Cold War brings that is paramount. So it is with interest when I hear that Barack Obama proclaims that Russia is isolated, and Congress and the American people cheer.

Except that it ain’t necessarily so. Thursday brought headlines that would surprise even the most ardent Russian isolationist:

“China, Russia Plan $242 Billion Beijing-Moscow Rail Link”

bullet-train

Yes, we have isolated Russia so well, that it entered into an agreement with China to build a 7,000km high speed rail linking Moscow with Beijing, and augmenting a major section of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Yep, Moscow to Beijing in 30 hours. That would be the equivalent of getting on a high speed rail in San Francisco, going to Seattle, and then cross country to Washington D.C. in 30 hours. Oh, well, we’ve still got Amtrak, America’s version of the old Trans-Siberian Railway. And it carried a “record” 31.6 million riders in fiscal 2013.

The story is remarkable enough in its technical achievement. It will be the longest, largest high-speed rail system in the world, carrying over 200 million passengers a year. And the cost is phenomena, $242 billion dollars. Imagine what our country could do if it were to invest a like sum in 4,000 miles of high-speed rail! Montreal to D.C. to San Francisco and L.A. and down to Mexico City.

Sound like a country that is isolated? While Obama drives wedges between Russia and the west for failing to submit to American hegemony, Russia is furiously building relationships with the rest of the world: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); Turkey (oil pipeline deal to replace SouthStream through Bulgaria); SCO (Shanghai Cooperative Organization), Eurasian Economic Union, etc.

Russia and China are currently working out a deal to replace SWIFT, the western bank system for working out trade payments between countries and businesses. The petrodollar is moving to the petro-yuan/ruble. So sure, we’re succeeding in isolating Russia, but just from the west: Europe and the Five Eyes (Canada, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, U.K.).

Russia has already declared in many, many ways that it will not submit to western sanctions. So while the sanctions may work to create the appearance of isolationism in the west, it only serves to drive Russia into alliances more quickly with the rest of the world. We are assisting in the creation of an economic and military union between Russia and China that will most effectively counter the military of the U.S. and its allies.

[Russian Foreign Mister Sergei] Lavrov also opined that he considered the United States’ approach to international relations “outdated” and “not a proper thing for a great power.”

“I should like that all countries choose the path of cooperation, not the path of diktat disguised in some diplomatic form,” he said, adding the charge that the U.S. was actually too weak to go it alone – which is why it tries to form coalitions, as in Iraq.

Lavrov also expressed more doubts than hope that the United States’ approach would change anytime soon.

“It’s in their blood and flesh, they believe they are first, and this philosophy, this genetic code, is very hard to change,” Lavrov said, before expressing faint confidence that “the logic of partnership” between the United States and Russia would ultimately prevail.

While there are those “isolationists” who believe that what we are doing will suffice to intimidate Russia sufficiently so that we and NATO can consolidate Europe into one solid block to work to break Russia up and/or change its leadership, others more keenly tuned into Russian sentiment disagree. Unfortunately, the average American has little knowledge of Russia by which to gauge the effectiveness or appropriateness of such a strategy.

Dimitri Orlov recently wrote an excellent piece for the westerner to get a realistic look at how Russia views western expansionism and hegemony:

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

Orlov’s piece is a great primer for any westerner that wants to get some context about U.S.-Russian relationships outside of Obama’s isolationist propaganda. It is this sort of propaganda that Obaba is advancing that jeopardizes world safety by falsely implying that his overt foreign policy of sanctions is succeeding, and eggs on neocons and Congress to double down.

It will be a continuation and expansion of these policies that will further drive Russia from any sort of meaningful engagement with the west, and into the solidification of alliances with China and India that will pit nearly half the world’s population and economy against the U.S. and Europe’s. Is this what we and the world really need?

And lastly, after beginning this piece talking about the newly approved high-speed rail link between Moscow and Beijing, and all of the symbolism it encompasses, I would be remiss in not mentioning how it all will be financed. After all $242 billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

First off, the new railway alliance has dumped the French contractor it had agreed to work with last year on developing the system. It isn’t hard to see that when the U.S. forces France into doing things like breaking its contracts to build and deliver two helicopter-carrying Mistral naval vessels, there would be some blowback.

So instead of paying France’s Alstrom around $40 billion for it’s part in the project (utilizing conventional wheeled high-speed rail), they awarded the contract to CRH (China Railway High-speed) and added on another 100 billion dollars to use state-of-the-art maglev technology to increase safety and speed.

But the coup de grâce appears to be that Obama’s “isolated” Russia is a little less isolated than it might seem in other areas:

Gennady Timchenko, a well-connected billionaire who after appearing on Western sanctions lists earlier this year was appointed head of the Russian-Chinese Business Council, told reporters on Thursday that he was optimistic that China would provide financial support for the project, which he said could carry more than 200 million passengers a year. 

China holds over $2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills that offer no real returns, but “investment in the railway would pay for itself,” Timchenko said. “Maybe not overnight, but we would create infrastructure connecting Asia with Europe for future generations.”

Yes, Russia and China are going to use China’s U.S. T-bond holdings to finance the railway. That’s some real isolationism for ya. Way to go, Obama!




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