My friend and colleague Anatol Lieven has a thoughtful oped in the Financial Times today, “Balkan Unrest Remains a Recipe for Disaster.”
I feel the need to respond to one bias in his framing, however.
He opens his excellent piece thus:
In their dealings over Kosovo’s independence, the European Union and Russia need to take their points of departure from reality and common responsibility for the stability of the European continent, not from legalism or self-righteousness.
The Russians must recognise that, whether they and the Serbs like it or not, Kosovo will soon become independent and will be recognised as such by the US, the EU and many Muslim states. If this is not granted soon, the Kosovo Albanians will revolt.
By vetoing United Nations recognition and giving moral support to Serbian intransigence, Russia can help keep Kosovo unstable and spread inÃ‚Âstability across the region. In the worst case, it could help produce a war that would destabilise not just the Balkans but Europe and deal a terrible blow to Russia’s relations with the west; but Moscow needs to ask itself how it can be in Russia’s interest to do this and take actions that will drive western Europe closer to the hardline anti-Russian positions in the US.
Lieven is correct to note that there are anti-Putin, anti-Russian hardliners in Washington who want yet more reasons to ignite global conflict and tension — which reinforces the high-fear politics they have become vested in.
But beyond some folks in DC demonizing Putin and a resurgent Russia, there is little evidence that Russia is a priority today on Washington’s foreign policy roster of concerns. As one former senior G.W. Bush administration official said at a Nixon Center gathering, “I can see no evidence that this administration has a strategy towards Russia of any kind.”
And thus I would suggest to Anatol Lieven that Russia thinks it can push its agenda now with little fear of blowback because it senses no serious strategic plan of the United States towards it.
This is one of the reasons I believe that the next President of the United States is going to get the crap kicked out of him or her — far worse than when Khrushchev famously manhandled John F. Kennedy in their early encounters.
Our allies as well as our real and potential foes just don’t know what our genuine priorities are, and what the reality of American power is and isn’t. There is a sense that America is less and less able to secure the objectives it sets for itself internationally.
We are moving into an era of a thousand pin-prick tests of our resolve and global position.
I also find it a bit ironic that the leading, front-page foreign policy issue for the U.S. on September 10, 2001 was Macedonia. Despite the boiling reaction among Arab Muslims to the long term bases then deployed in Saudia Arabia, we were largely nationally ignorant of the dangerous ferment building in the Middle East.
And now while we are focused on the Middle East, we are largely blind to the consequences of a new collision with Russia, and the challenges involved in recognizing an independent Kosovo.
— Steve Clemons