Written by Dmitry Drobnitsky; Originally appeared at UM, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
American realism reached its conclusion. On Tuesday [June 7] elections were held in six states in the USA. Much attention was given to the most densely populated state, California, where the largest number of delegates is elected at the final party convention of both parties.
However, if the results of the primary elections of June 7 had any significance, it would only be psychological. They did not change anything in the candidates’ positions. The lone Republican candidate is known for some time already, but the Democrats will have to wait for the official nomination at the party convention in July. Their leader gathers an unusual amount of votes only with the so-called “super delegates”, who have the right to change their choice.
In any case, the Republicans and Democrats from today on, direct all their efforts to the preparation to the final convention, where not only the candidates for the presidency but the official political platforms of the parties will be adopted.
In the elections of the United States traditionally the socio-economic programmes take centre stage. However from the beginning of the 21st century, international politics acquired a bigger meaning. These elections are unique in many ways. In part, internal and foreign policy agendas were firmly interrelated
It is not by coincidence that future relations of the USA with its main trade partners, with the Middle Eastern countries and NATO, with Russia and China were very actively debated during the primaries. And at the end of the primaries the frontrunners of both parties came out with keynote speeches devoted exclusively to foreign affairs and national security.
When we consider (and generally rightly considered) that when our “partner’s” ideological engagement is lower, a characteristic mainly with liberal interventionists and neocons, and common sense and realism is higher in foreign policy, the better for bi-lateral relations and for the world in general.
For a long time the realists were practically excluded from the political arena in the USA. In addition, their voices were almost silent as well in the MSM. The three main dailies of the country – The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times – in their “Op-ed” sections (what we would call “Opinions” columns or sections) gave voice exclusively to those experts that insisted on the indispensable role of the USA, of their duty to intervene in conflicts in any given part of the globe where “something goes wrong”, and the important success of liberal democracy throughout the world
The same can be said about all the main television news channels of the United States.
The situation began to change in 2015-16, when it became obvious that the USA’s political failures in Europe and in the Middle East not only brought disaster to countless peoples, living very far from American shores, but also made the whole world objectively less safe, which frightened voters. Not to mention the fact that these failures were very expensive and directly affected the economic situation in the States.
The concepts of the interventionists, where the world is safer when the USA exercises its global police functions, at least became less pronounced. Public opinion polls in America showed that the voters do not want their country intervening for every “downtrodden peoples” outside its borders (there are enough of their own downtrodden) and more so, the fight for achieving liberal democracy throughout the world (democratic regimes have not increased but ISIL was established on the territories of the destroyed countries).
The realists rightly saw in the new mood of Americans a chance to rehabilitate themselves and return to power in Olympus; moreover, the whole course of the pre-election campaigns set the tone of discussing the foreign policy of the USA
Television channels stopped being afraid of inviting to their telecasts previously disgraced experts and the phrase “it is possible that the world today would be less dangerous if Hussein and Gaddafi were still at the head of their countries” from marginal savagery transformed into an element of mainstream discourse.
To a lesser degree, two influential American foreign policy publications, Foreign Policy and The National Interest, started to regularly give space to the realists. Lately Steven Walt and Paul Pillar stand out. In early May, warnings from George Keenan (1904-2005), one of the most important ideologues of modern realism, were remembered. In 1998 Keenan caused then much controversy with his interview in The New York Times newspaper when he condemned the decision to expand NATO to the East. He said it was a “terrible mistake”, he predicted the “gradual negative reaction from the Russians” and even “the beginning of a new cold war”.
On the eve of the primaries of June 7, the publication The National Interest published an article by a close aide to Henry Kissinger, the managing director of the think tank Kissinger Associates, Thomas E. Graham with the title “America Needs to Break its Old Habits on Russia”.
After the neocon and establishment press, the article by the realist author acts on the reader as a breath of fresh air. No one suggests world-friendship-gum, and it would be strange to expect such suggestions from a Kissinger supporter, his realism is cold and harsh. Instead of ideology, calculation; instead of global initiatives, global interests; instead of international law, bargaining between strong players.
Graham writes: “The starting point is accepting that we have moved into a new era. There is no need for a reset or the pursuit of strategic partnership or the restoration of business as usual. Nor should we return to the harsh adversarial relationship of the Cold War, with a focus on containment. Rather, we should approach Russia based on a hard calculation of national interests and an unsentimental, nonideological assessment of how Russia might help us advance or thwart our goals. We should focus more on its external behavior and less on its internal politics. The relationship that will emerge will be a mix of competition and cooperation, of resistance and accommodation—in short, a normal relationship between major world powers.”
Thus, according to Graham, in different regions relations will be different. In Europe confrontation will be apparent. In Asia, it will be cooperation (as much as it is possible to understand the author, against China). In the Middle East, a little bit of both. And for questions of combating climate change, pandemic diseases, counteractions against international terrorism and non-proliferation maybe close and effective cooperation between us.
This is, of course, very far from the neocon “prevent the revival of the Russian Empire at any cost”. But here it does not mean mutual understanding. It is kind of like playing Preference [translator’s note: card game]. Today the two of you play against a third player and tomorrow they will play against you.
Realism, as a theory and practice of foreign policy, in principle does not assume any friendship or alliance. Only temporary convergence of interests. There is no place for international law in realism, relations between governments are viewed as “archaic”, that the game is played without any supranational arbiter.
In the period of the cold war, the threat of mutual annihilation gave a break to the Security Council of the UN and other international institutions, but in the “new era” of relations between Russia and the USA, any appeals to the law and international charters become meaningless. Only two-sided agreements. Perhaps, every once in a while trilateral…
With the advent of the “new era” there will be meaningless complaints about “double standards”. If we take the meaning of realism to its conclusion, then “double standards” will become the second name for international relations.
Thus we must understand that any of the sides cannot rely on “good behaviour” from the “partner’s” side. Each side will pursue its own interests. After writing his article Thomas Graham concludes: “that is the only path to a Russia policy that reliably advances America’s interests now and well into the future”. Not partnership, mutual trust and prosperity but the furtherance of American interests.
Thus, Russia must “abandon sentimentality”. If she defends her interests, no one will condemn. If she is not able, she will have only herself to blame.
This is what realism in the American understanding is. Obviously, in the Kissinger school all the spectre of real politik is not exhausted. But the fundamental differences from Graham’s approach, upon closer inspection of other authoritative experts, we will not found. They can make a softer bed. But sleep will be just as tough. We must say thank you to mister Kissinger and his colleague for this honesty.
In these elections in the USA, foreign policy concepts will be decided and adopted by Washington – realism or liberal interventionism. Friendship and warm relations are no longer on the menu. The best that can be offered, respect to the fact that our nation has national interests.
This however does not mean that what the “new era” has brought must absolutely be fully embraced.
Without weakening herself and continuing defending her interest, Russia can and must present to the world an alternative to the cold calculations and full legalization of both sides. Of course, this alternative cannot be applied to the past, to “voicing of concerns about violating international law”. Our country can present a moral civilized alternative. And it seems that she is the only one.
But if the matter will move even by a centimetre, it will be a great achievement. The Anglo-Saxons taught well the world calculation and exchange. Our mission is different.