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  • The New Russian “Messianism” Defined: Patriarch Kirill’s Christmas Day Interview

    by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

    In what has now become a tradition dating back several years, the head of Russian state television and radio news services, Dmitri Kiselyov interviewed the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill for a broadcast to the nation and the world released yesterday on Orthodox Christmas Day, 7 January.

    A two minute segment from  this interview, in which the Patriarch defined what I call a new Russian-Slavic messianism, was featured on the  Sunday evening Vesti news program, the most watched news program of the week. This official picking of the raisin from the cake can leave no doubt that the Kremlin endorses the concept, though what we have here are parallel state and religious forces operating from equal positions of strength in complementary ways, and not religious subordination to state direction, as will surely be the interpretation of Putin’s detractors.

    Over the years, these Kiselyov Christmas interviews with the Patriarch have touched upon various topical questions of Church dogma, relations between the Church and society, and relations with other faiths, including, for example: the Patriarch’s strong condemnation of rampant secularism in the West amounting to persecution of Christian believers in many European countries, or his condemnation of revolutions of all stripes for unleashing human passions that make it impossible to resolve the social and political problems that revolutionaries say justify their actions.  These are strong words from a powerful thinker and pastor, who otherwise has been very active mobilizing a coalition with the Roman Catholic Church and other traditionalists against the forces of liberalism across the globe.

    Less commonly, the Patriarch has spoken out about contemporary issues of state. When Russia became fully engaged in the Syrian civil war and took resolute military action against the Islamic State, Kirill responded to the question on people’s minds during the Christmas season and explained that the Russian intervention in Syria was a “just” war waged for defensive reasons.

    Yesterday’s interview was also exceptional in the same way. The Patriarch’s remarks were programmatic, not ad hoc, and were meant to address an issue of national importance.

    Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia as the legal successor state has been trying to find a new identity for itself.  The national anthem, the national flag and other symbols of the nation have been reinvented, but still there has been a void at the center that love of country or patriotism alone cannot fill.  Patriarch Kirill’s prepared remarks for the interview must be seen as a new and  serious attempt to provide the missing content which he borrows from the pre-revolutionary Russian past.

    Transcript of Dmitri Kiselyov interview with Patriarch Kirill, Russian Christmas, 7 January 2018

    Kiselyov opens with the remark that the world seems to be going mad. Against this background of uncertainty, he says there is the view that Russia will live so long as it retains its special distinguishing traits (своебразие). Kiselyov asks to what extent this is the case and, if so, what this uniqueness consists of.

    Kirill: Each person has his own distinguishing traits. No two people are alike. And so it is for countries.  Russia’s special nature was formed under the influence of various factors – its size, climate, etc.  I think the distinguishing feature is that Russia is a country which pays heed to the inner voice of conscience [совестливость]even if this has at times created problems for the country. I will give some outstanding examples of when conscience takes the upper hand over pragmatism:  Let’s take the Crimean War and the defense of Christianity in the Holy Land under Nicholas I.  Some viewers will say it was a geopolitical program.  No, geopolitical ideas did not inspire people to defend the holy places and to defend Orthodoxy on the territory. Or the Balkan Wars under Alexander II. Thousands upon thousands of simple Russian men went to fight for the Slavs. And alongside them went some not so simple men – generals, members of the tsarist family. Was that just pragmatism?  Would anyone go to die for pragmatism?  Never in your life. This movement to face danger came from people listening to their conscience. And then there was Nicholas II before the First World War.  To defend the Serbian brothers.  Again, someone could say it was pragmatism. But  would people really have gone off to fight if it were only in the name of pragmatism?  This element of heeding one’s conscience clearly shows itself in the history of Russia.

    Kiselyov: Many consider that Russia is trying to play a disproportionate role in the world. And there may even be some risks in this for our country. Can we bear this Cross?

    Kirill: You have no right to refuse the Cross. That is what the Orthodox Church teaches us. If Russia takes this Cross upon itself, then God will give it the strength to bear it. The most important thing is what we were just talking about, that the moral dimension in politics never be swallowed up by what are truly and exclusively pragmatic objectives that are remote from morality. If we, in our politics, in our lives, in our societal structures will strive for justice to triumph, for the moral feelings of people to be assuaged, then undoubtedly we will have to bear a Cross in some way. Without going into details, without a doubt there are people in this world who will not be in agreement with our position. Such people already exist. But I want to say once again, if God imposes a Cross, then he gives one the strength to bear it. And the very fact of bearing this Cross has enormous significance for the entire world, for the whole community of mankind. And however they may try to present our policies, including foreign policy, in a different light, they will be attractive for people so long as they preserve the moral dimension.

    As the next question and as a follow-up to the anxiety people are feeling in this world going mad, Kiselyov asks the Patriarch to expand on his recent invocation of the Apocalypse.

    Kirill: TheApocalypse is the end of history. Under what conditions can there be an end?  If human society loses its vitality – if it exhausts its resource to continue existing. That happens if evil achieves total domination. If evil drives away good from human society, then the end will come. Why do we have to talk about this today? Because we are now living through a special period in history. Never before did human society put good and evil on the same plane. There were attempts to justify evil, but never to say that good and evil are relative rather than absolute truths.  Under these conditions, how can the Church avoid sending up an alarm? How can it avoid warning that we are on a very dangerous path?  If the Church will not say this, then who will?

    Analysis

    Patriarch Kirill built his career in the Church in two domains:  pastoral work and diplomatic service. His epochal meeting with Pope Francis in Havana in February 2016, the first meeting ever of a Russian Orthodox patriarch and a Roman Catholic pope, was entirely in keeping with his long-standing experience on the world stage in defense of the conservative, traditional Christian values that he constantly promotes. He is not a believer in Ecumenism, but in strategic alliances for the benefit of core values.

    Kirill came from a Church family, entered the seminary and took his vows in the 1970s, a dark and oppressive period for the Church. He emerged from the experience of poverty and close dependence on the generosity of his parishioners to survive as a resilient and powerful spiritual figure. His closeness to Vladimr Putin is a credit to Putin, not the other way around. For all of these reasons, Kirill’s remarks about Russia’s uniqueness and its mission in the world to uphold justice and assuage the consciences of the faithful must be seen as potentially very influential.

    In his remarks cited above, we witness the rebirth of Russian messianism, something which was transmogrified under Communism to leadership of the worldwide revolution and has now returned to its pre-Revolutionary shape with emphasis on “bearing the Cross” of  leading the struggle for justice and truth in the world.

    It would be inappropriate to highlight the re-emergence of Russian messianism as a factor on the global landscape without putting this phenomenon in a broader context of national self-definition. In the immediate neighborhood of Russia, you have Poland, which from the 17th century to this day has seen itself as the bulwark of Christian European civilization against the barbaric Asiatic hordes to the East, whether they be Russian Orthodox or Islamic Turks and Mongols. Moving to the West, Europe’s leading imperial countries France and Britain invented the “White Man’s Burden,” another term for “bearing the Cross,” and to this day both countries punch above their weight as promoters of secular liberalism and “universal values.”  Then, of course, there is the United States, which has for more than a century led the fight to “make the world safe for democracy.”  These are all forms of messianism.

    However, this short list of countries with messianic ambitions is exhaustive. The vast majority of nations are content to look after their own interests and make no claims to some unique role in service of humanity.  The bystanders include the two most populous nations on earth, China and India, which alone account for one third of humankind.

    These are important considerations when we note that it has been precisely Vladimir Putin’s Russia which has taken on openly and publicly the role of challenger to America’s global hegemony.  The daring and the mission did not come from nowhere, nor would they cease if this one man were removed from the equation. For these reasons, I remind our foreign policy establishment that knowledge of history is inescapable to understand the balance of forces in the world and to master diplomacy.  Looking at GDP or demographic trends is utterly inadequate to understand who is who in this world.

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    For the 2 minute segment in the  Vesti broadcast see the posting on youtube.com starting at minute 11:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fmEtAhnt3g

    For the full 36 minute interview see:    http://e-news.pro/mnenie-i-analitika/207870-rozhdestvenskoe-intervyu-svyateyshego-patriarha-kirilla-07012018.html

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

          * * * *

     Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

  • Rex Tillerson in "The New York Times": Pride and Prejudice

     

    by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

     

    Before entering my harsh words about of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s op-ed essay “I am proud of American diplomacy” published in the The New York Times on 29 December, I owe it to readers to acknowledge that from the moment Tillerson was nominated for the post, I was an enthusiastic supporter, seeing in him one of the very few candidates for high office placed before the Senate by Donald Trump who appeared to have the intellectual, psychological and experiential preparation to take office fully prepared for his mission.

    Bearing in mind Donald Trump’s heavy emphasis on foreign policy during his campaign and his brave denunciation of the regime change and democracy promotion policies that had gotten the United States into a never-ending string of foreign military adventures from the mid 1990s, there was good reason to hope that Tillerson’s mission would be to change policy direction from the path of war to a path of accommodation with the world at large and to cut his department’s headcount in keeping with the more modest ambitions of the new foreign policy. Cutting personnel would have two elements: delayering those specialized units that had special responsibility for democracy promotion and humanitarian actions and winnowing out the ideological zealots who had infiltrated all of the State Department under the direction of Dick Cheney in the period following 9/11.

    At the start of his confirmation hearings in the Senate, Rex Tillerson read from a prepared speech in which he made reference to the formative elements in his education, his later career in business and his charitable work with Boy Scouts of America. Foremost among these was the guiding principle of seeking the truth and following it wherever it would lead him.  Against the background of a President renowned for contempt for facts, this seemed to be a powerful and very relevant plus in favor of the incoming Secretary of State.

    For most of the past nine months, Tillerson’s work at State was in the shadows. He avoided the press. We heard only about his disputes with his boss in connection with what he felt was inappropriate meddling by Trump’s relatives and associates in selection of his subordinates.  Then we heard Tillerson’s remark that Trump is a “moron” after they had a falling out in a cabinet meeting at which Trump reportedly asked what is the value of our nuclear arsenal if we never use it.  We heard about large scale retirements of senior staff in policy making at State’s seventh floor, and about the dozens of unfilled ambassadorial posts.  In sum, what we heard about Tillerson seemed to confirm that he was meeting our expectations from his swearing in.

    However, from the very start we were perplexed at the sharp contradictions between what seemed to be the reasonable tone of Tillerson and the verbal excesses of our U.S. Ambassador to  the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who continued directly the anti-Russian invective that was the trademark of her predecessor under President Obama, Samantha Power. Then there were the contradictions between Tillerson’s initiatives, as for example, his suggestion of opening talks with North Korea without preconditions and the brutal dismissal of such notions by Trump. The result was a vision of the administration as uncoordinated, even chaotic.

    To be sure, there were also worrying signs of inconsistencies within Tillerson’s own scope of action and speech that we preferred to ignore. The first jolt came in the context of Trump’s cruise missile attack on the Sheirat air base in Syria on 7 April. Within hours of the event, there was Tillerson repeating the entirely unproven allegation of a Syrian government chemical attack on civilians in Idlib province that cried out for such a riposte from America. There was Tillerson turning a deaf ear to Russian calls for a full and impartial investigation of the incident. One could conclude that Tillerson’s search for truth to guide policy had died early in his tenure.

    Then in the autumn, we heard from Tillerson that the United States will never acknowledge Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, and that sanctions against Russia will stay in place so long as there is no full implementation of the Minsk Accords, which means forever.

    Now, with his new essay in The New York Times, Rex Tillerson has shown us that there are no contradictions, that he has become a mouthpiece of Trump and of the aggressive, shall we say obnoxious America Firsters, who have been standing on the front of the stage ever since Trump took office. What seemed like impartiality at his swearing in was nothing more than an empty head, which has since taking office been steadily filled with the vicious prejudices of the staff he was supposed to turn around or dismiss.

     

    Fine comb reading of the op-ed

    From start to finish, Tillerson’s op-ed piece repeats allegations as facts, repeats and builds on outright lies fabricated in Washington, and makes false claims about the achievements of US foreign policy on his watch.

    His opening claim that the United States State Department has made encouraging progress “in pushing for global peace and stability” would be laughable if it were not tragic, given the tensions that the country has stoked in Syria, in Ukraine, in North Korea by the intemperate language and deeds of his President and colleagues, now of Tillerson himself.

    With respect to North Korea, the most dangerous issue currently facing U.S. foreign policy, Tillerson points to the success of his department in achieving imposition of ever tougher sanctions with the unanimous agreement of the UN Security Council. He ignores the military provocation posed by U.S. joint exercises and dispatch of a nuclear armed naval force to Korean waters, all of which arguably made the missile and nuclear tests of Pyongyang more brazen than ever.

    Tillerson claims success in relations with China by defending U.S. interests against that country’s unfair trading practices and “troubling military activities in the South China Sea and elsewhere.”  However, that is a totally empty boast.

    Equally empty and still more offensive to an informed audience is his claim that by its delegation of authority to American military commanders in the field, the Trump administration has led its Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to victory, having recaptured “virtually all of previously held Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria.” Not a word here about the Russians and their vastly more effective leadership within the Syrian military theater acting together with the army of Bashar Assad, the Iranians and Hezbollah, in cooperation with Iraq and Turkey.  To add insult to injury, Tillerson claims that his diplomats “were following up with humanitarian aid and assistance.” This is a claim without any demonstrated substance, whereas the Russian assistance in food, mine-clearing and restarting infrastructure is shown daily on television.

    Tillerson’s remarks about Russia make one wonder aloud where are his brains.  He says “we have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with.”  This is a page straight out of Samantha Power’s playbook. What follows is the familiar Washington litany. Russia is “resurgent,” it has “invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine.” For good measure, Russia has “undermined the sovereignty of Western nations,” a reference to “meddling in our election and others.”  And once again, “there cannot be business as usual with Russia” till the Minsk agreements are strictly adhered to.

    As for Syria, Tillerson has flip-flopped to where we were before he ever took office:  the Geneva talks on the country’s future must “produce a Syria that is free of Bashar al-Assad and his family.” In the context of the Sochi talks soon to begin under patronage of Iran, Turkey and Russia at which all minorities and stakeholders in the future Syrian constitution are represented, Tillerson’s remarks are absurd.

    Tillerson also puts the full weight of his office behind the Iran-bashing policies of his boss. He is busy building alliances in the region against Iran and planning to “punish Iran for its violations of…commitments.”

    Finally, the Secretary of State mentions the restructuring of his department which he has overseen this past year. The objective, he tells us is “streamlining our human resources and information technology systems…., better aligning personnel and resources with America’s strategic priorities.”  To anyone with an ear attuned to corporate double-talk, this utterly false description of the HR wreckage in his department will sound very familiar.

    The only consolation in the entire op-ed is Tillerson’s optimism “about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests.”  What grounds he has for such optimism in the context of the deceipt and lies that riddle his presentation are a mystery to me.

     

    How could this be?  Tillerson does not need the State Department post to cap his career, which already had so many laurels from his chairmanship of Exxon.  No, something else is operative, and I venture it is the same as what explains the inconsistent and frequently changing policy positions of his boss:  namely that in his own way, Tillerson is also a “moron.”

    Let me be very explicit here.  IQ is not the issue.  There are very few folks who will perform poorly on intelligence tests among Trump and his administration.  But stupidity is as stupidity does.  And the reason for the commonality, say, between Trump and Tillerson, is that both have come to office with empty heads. Devoid of the facts and education essential to independently and competently make sense of their surroundings and of all incoming data so as to formulate and implement appropriate strategies.

    This conclusion may be counter-intuitive when we are speaking of captains of industry. However, I am not speculating, I am speaking from my personal experience working for and with Vice Presidents, International and other members of the board of major US, UK and Canadian multinational corporations.

    I have rubbed shoulders with my share of highly paid and widely respected business leaders, who left me astonished at their low intellectual merits, disregard for factual briefings prepared by their assistants and reliance on “gut instinct” to take major decisions on investments, joint ventures and other business initiatives. How then do you explain the undisputed success of American big business in terms of profitability, investor confidence and entrepreneurial dynamism?

    The answer is simple:  brute force. Market dominance allows the number one, maybe also the number two player in any given market to absorb very big losses from bad business decisions, recoup the losses from the revenue flow of their main clientele, and tweak the failing initiatives until they pay off, which they often will, again due to market dominance.

    These are the lessons which Messrs. Trump and Tillerson and others in the Trump Administration have brought with them to high office.  It is what feeds the animal spirits of America First. It is behind the Realist School thinking of the new National Security Strategy which Trump rolled out in December.  Put in simpler language: under Trump U.S. foreign policy comes down to “might makes right.”  Forget facts. Forget all the claptrap about human rights and democracy promotion.  We stand for “might makes right.”   That, and a good dose of raw selfishness.

    Here Trump, the real estate developer and Tillerson, the boss of the country’s largest oil company are indistinguishable.

    None of this makes for “Soft Power.”  And it is no surprise that the concept of ‘soft power’ is OUT in this administration. It is the new passé.

    It is unclear whether the “might makes right” foreign policy will be more or less prone to armed aggression abroad than was Humanitarian Interventionism or Neocon prodding of History’s eventual course towards global and universal democracy.  But it is clear that the new transparency in US foreign policy will upset a great many allies, for whom there is no longer a fig leaf to justify knee-jerk agreement with every demand coming from Washington.  That was perfectly clear in yesterday’s statements by EU chief diplomat Frederica Mogherini during her visit to Cuba that the EU will ignore what Washington says and continue its policy of no-sanctions and growing rapprochement with Havana in pursuit of Europe’s commercial interests. We saw the same in the recent UN General Assembly vote on the resolution against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, when the United States found itself isolated, abandoned by nearly all friends, allies and vassals. The “i” was dotted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his press conference yesterday with Emmanuel Macron. With reference to the UN General Assembly vote, Erdogan explained that while some countries may believe that “might makes right,” they are sadly mistaken. It is the other way around, he insisted. Only the truly hard of hearing in Washington will miss this cue.

     

    ©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

          * * * *

     Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg

  • Herman Gref in "The Financial Times": a grave warning that merits our full attention

     

    by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

     

    In this holiday vacation period between Christmas and New Year’s, a time when we tend to put the cares of daily life aside, the Financial Times has published an interview with Herman Gref, chairman of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, that contains a clear warning of dire developments in the New Year should the United States push its economic sanctions to the limit, as may well occur given other very troubling items in the news with respect to Ukraine. See https://www.ft.com/content/9c25c852-e400-11e7-97e2-916d4fbac0da 

    It bears mention that Herman Gref is a highly intelligent, capable and widely respected Russian statesman and business leader. He is a key exponent of Liberal economics and democratization of state governance within Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Gref is by nature reserved, not at all an alarmist.

    The detonator of dire developments to which he alluded is the threat by some politicians on Capitol Hill to extend the economic sanctions against Russia to a cut-off of access to SWIFT, which is a vital component of the global infrastructure for interbank settlements.  This threat has been in the air ever since the initial imposition of sanctions on Russia in 2014 following its annexation of the Crimea and intervention in the Ukrainian insurgency of Donbas.

    Said Gref, termination of access to SWIFT would elicit Russian strong countermeasures against the United States. Whereas till now only Europe has paid a price for the sanctions and the United States got off scot free, in any new Russian response the United States will feel the pain. The result would be a confrontation that would “make the Cold War look like child’s play.”

    This warning comes in the wake of very troubling signs that the Ukrainian conflict, which is the cause or pretext for U.S.-led sanctions against Russia, is spinning out of control.  Russian television reportage in recent weeks speaks of a major intensification of shelling by Ukrainian forces directed against civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk provinces, reaching a level not seen for more than a year. Russia is in the meantime withdrawing its officers-observers from the Donbas, and this is remarked with alarm by Poland and other countries participating in the OSCE force. They believe Russian withdrawal jeopardizes the security of their personnel on the ground in the region. It also may be a prelude to larger Russian intervention in the conflict.  And also in the meantime, the United States and Canada have authorized the shipment of lethal weapons to Ukraine, which crosses the “red lines” that Russia spelled out clearly.

    The new and provocative military support by the United States for the regime in Kiev may well be part of a greater plan by the Deep State in Washington to completely neutralize the foreign policy initiatives of Donald Trump in favor of accommodation with Moscow.  If there is an escalation of fighting in the southeast of Ukraine and Russia steps up its assistance to the insurgents, the arguments will be in place to implement the most drastic economic measures against Russia and expel it from the global financial system, leading to the scenario cited by Gref.

    For those who are not familiar with the details of world banking, SWIFT is a private company based in Brussels, Belgium. Any order to deny Russia access to its infrastructure would have to come from the federal Belgian government, which is otherwise very busy these days planning the visit to Moscow at the end of January by Prime Minister Charles Michel.

    In a speech last week to the 130 plus ambassadors from Belgium posted around the world, Prime Minister Michel called for a new and broader dialogue with Russia even as we have differences over Ukraine and other issues and even as sanctions remain in place.  His mission to Moscow will surely have on the agenda the ongoing construction of an LNG terminal at the Flemish port of Zeebrugge implementing agreements between the Russian gas exporter Novatek and the Belgian gas distributor Fluxys.  This enormous project would position Belgium as a major hub for distribution of Liquefied Natural Gas coming from the newly operational Russian field in Yamal, north of Siberia, a hub having pan-European importance. It would also position Belgium as a major competitor to Poland, which not long ago opened its own LNG terminal to receive American shale gas, also with aspirations to achieve pan-European scale.

    Any US-led intensification of sanctions against Russia, and in particular any cut-off of Russia’s access to SWIFT will necessarily kill the Belgian gas project and cause grave harm to the local economy in Flanders. In this connection, it has to be stated that the power behind the coalition government of Mr. Michel is precisely the Flemish nationalist NV-A party.  All of this means that here in Belgium a constitutional crisis would likely follow.

    For all of these reasons, 2018 will be a year for vigilance and attention to detail in a world that is very troubled and moving towards disorder.

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2017

          * * * *

     Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review  http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg