19 December 2014

Sanctions are (still) breathtakingly stupid

Even if you’re not a fan of President Putin, the easiest and most effective way to ensure his recalcitrance to cooperate with the West on the world stage whilst simultaneously driving more and more Russians into his welcoming arms (including ones who weren’t already there) is precisely this way that the US Congress, President Obama and his minions in the State Department have been going about it: using sanctions. In spite of all the salivating articles you’re likely to find strewn about the Anglophone blogosphere gleefully predicting Russia’s impending doom – and, indeed, partly because of them – Russia is going to become a far more hostile place to America, Americans and American interests, both real and imagined, than it has any need to be.

It’s really not that tough to figure out why sanctions don’t work. America has created a situation where ordinary Russians are being made to feel the effects of having a government that doesn’t bow to America’s every whim. The Russian people understand quite well that they are under attack by the West: these sanctions are creating a siege mentality which builds ever greater sympathy for Putin and his government. The neocons can continue to scream ‘false consciousness’ in the press all they like; the reality of the matter is that Putin has played his domestic political cards masterfully even in the midst of what is likely to be a very tough economic crisis.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the stated aim of these sanctions against Russia – to get Russia to reverse course on Ukraine and Crimea – not only is not going to be fulfilled. Ukraine is likely to suffer far, far more on account of these sanctions than it would have if the American government had simply taken a more realistic stance on Russia’s security issues. Russian sympathy for the Novorussian fighters in Donetsk and Lugansk is likely to skyrocket, pushing Putin to be more and more open about giving them both military and financial aid. In the meanwhile, the Ukrainians in the west of the country are going to continue to be beggared by a venal, corrupt, illegitimate regime which privatises all the country’s state-owned assets and sells them at bottom-rate prices to European and American plutocrats, and bullied by that regime’s neo-Nazi enforcers.

Nothing good can come of this new sanctions regime, which has found support from across the American political spectrum: whether the progressives, the neocons or the supposedly-peaceable, supposedly free-trade-supporting libertarian right. The most recent round of sanctions, coupled with an authorisation of lethal military aid to the Ukrainian junta, was a notedly bipartisan effort – and, like all too many such bipartisan efforts, combines Republican sadism with Democratic cluelessness. The only dissent here has come from contrarians like Dennis Kucinich on the left and Daniel Larison on the right.

It is a sad day indeed – the cool heads are now to be found only outside the American political mainstream. One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, the American people will awaken again to the wisdom of foreign-policy realism.

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