Russia knows war is not an abstraction. This is why Moscow seeks cooperation, not confrontation, with the US.
Dropping bombs on Syria and Afghanistan, and sending battleships to the Korean peninsula to re-enact the Korean War, are astonishingly arrogant and foolhardy acts. But the U.S. powers that be seem locked in their military madness, ignoring all sensible calls for diplomacy and reason. For the government of Pres. Trump these military actions signify little more than moving around pieces on a chessboard or in a video game, rather than confronting the reality of killing people, ruining the lives of an entire country’s population, and destroying the given country’s infrastructure. The sensation of exercising power over others feeds on itself to create more monstrous forms of invasion and subjugation. Somalia is next on the chessboard. . . .
Pres. Trump’s emotional statement that “beautiful babies” were killed in the chemical attack or accident in Idlib province may have come from genuine feelings on his part. But true leadership should temper emotion with reason, intelligence, and humility.
The event claimed the lives of some 80 people and inflicted harm on an additional 200 civilians. It urgently needs to be investigated, but the single country stalling the investigation is the U.S., which prefers to drop bombs first and ask questions later. As in the case of the downing of the MH17 Malaysian airliner over Ukrainian territory on 17 July 2014, the U.S. claims to have irrefutable evidence, but will not release it.
The question arises: Are all “beautiful babies” equal, or are some more worthy than others? Does the world need to be reminded of the approximately 500,000 children under the age of five who were killed by U.S. sanctions against Iraq? Who can forget U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s response when questioned whether sanctions were worth the lives of those children? (It was “worth it”, according to Albright.)
Such a cold-blooded attitude towards the lives of “others,” “over there” is beyond evil. In only a few months Pres. Trump’s war machine has dropped bombs on and killed children in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq. These were “beautiful babies,” too. Is this sheer hypocrisy, ignorance, racism, a double standard, or a combination of these attitudes?
The serious issue of the use of chemical weapons is similarly treated with a double standard: the West reacted with outrage at the deaths of the people in Idlib province, but should the answer be one of bringing about more deaths, rather than an investigation in a impartial and peaceful manner? The area in question was not controlled by the Syrian Army, being a site for the stockpiling of weapons by various terrorist groups.
A reasonable assessment notes: “The West groundlessly accused Syria’s authorities of [the attack], although militants of Jabhat al-Nusra [banned in Russia], who… produced landmines stuffed with poisonous substances, operate in that area.”i Expert analysis of the event by MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol concludes in several reports that the attack was more likely staged on the ground, rather than from the air.ii The use of chemical weapons on citizens of Syria was widely reported in the Western media, but where was the West’s outrage when the Ukrainian Army (supported by U.S. equipment and military advice) used phosphorus bombs—possibly as many as six times–against its Russian-speaking civilian population in Donbass?
Americans have not seen war in their homeland. Not genuine war—the earth groaning with round-the-clock bombing, water supplies destroyed, food unavailable, the environment polluted beyond repair, wild animals maimed and killed, and the whereabouts unknown of family members and loved pets. Unimaginable suffering. For most Americans war is hidden, something fought by drones and mercenaries “over there,” but not “here.” There is no conception of an enemy looming nearby, threatening a personal attack on Americans with conventional or nuclear weapons.
Americans associate their country’s being at war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and with the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001. Each of these tragic events lasted for 1 day, remaining etched in the country’s collective memory. Can Americans imagine one of their largest cities being blockaded for 900 days, with hundreds of thousands of people dying of starvation or disease, as was the case in Hitler’s blockade of Leningrad?
Can Americans imagine a foreign military or combined foreign forces bombing the U.S. for 78 days, as was the case with NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia? It is more vitally important than ever for people in the U.S. to consider the “other’s” concerns, position, interests. The U.S. government seems unable to do that, not at even the most elementary level, judging from Pres. Trump’s recent, shocking military actions in Syria, Afghanistan, and the waters off North Korea.
The U.S. government has set a low professional standard—not one of diplomacy, but rather of confrontation, deception, aggression, and sanctions. The conduct of officials is undignified, with their poor education about geopolitical affairs and modern history embarrassingly visible. It is enough to note U.S. Rep. (CA) Maxine Waters’ remark that Putin invaded Korea.iii This kind of ignorance is dangerous, to say the least.
The overwhelming majority of government officials are monolingual, with the limited and skewed worldview this lack of language education can bring about. High-level positions shouldering enormous responsibility are granted on the basis of political favors, rather than serious qualifications. One obvious example is Pres. Trump’s appointment of the hawkish and Russophobic Nikki Haley as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Daniel McAdams has aptly described Haley’s performance in this position as a “train wreck.”iv Her predecessor Samantha Power was no better, with arrogant and childish behavior that routinely undermined UN deliberations.v
By contrast, Russia’s diplomatic standard is very high. This is in large part because of the serious role Russian political society attaches to high-ranking, responsible positions, and the rigorous education in diplomacy that a potential official of the Russian Federation must complete before being considered for political work. Examples include the internationally distinguished Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the former, now deceased Russian Permanent Representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, who was among the most respected diplomats in world politics. Even Russia’s current Deputy Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov, though not experienced in his new position, is impressive—articulate, well-prepared, focused, and dignified.
Russia desires constructive cooperation with the U.S., instead of confrontation. In the early days of the Trump presidency Pres. Putin pledged Russia’s cooperation on a full range of issues in a new era of partnership, but the U.S. government squandered that window of opportunity. No vestiges of any cooperation or trust remain. Clearly coercion and deals lie behind Pres. Trump’s policy shifts towards Russia and Syria.
More than anything else, Russia hoped for a U.S. partner who would be consistent, reliable, and abide by mutually-concluded agreements. Instead, what Russia and the world received in the Trump government are turnabout policies and rushes to judgment without investigation or evidence. What the U.S. prefers is to continue its Middle East policy of “managed chaos,” of which Russia is fully aware (Russian FM Sergei Lavrov has remarked on this policy), and prevent any attempts at peaceful settlements of the ever-increasing number of wars it has started or supported.
The differences manifested in the U.S.’s and Russia’s actions stem from two separate national identities and sets of core values. The U.S.’s identity as a land of “democracy,” of freedom, of individual independence, of the American Dream of acquiring material things is based in political ideology and economics, rather than in culture or spirituality. The U.S. is in danger of losing even these values, if they ever existed in reality in the national consciousness.
By contrast, Russia has not lost her core values. Even in the most terrible times of the country’s history, her strong sense of literature as a moral force, spirituality, love for nature and open expanses, and a collective mentality of helping others, have survived and are in recent times more vibrant than ever. These values are not based in ideology; they derive from something more enduring: a thousand-year-old rich culture, love for the Motherland, and commitment to preserving it as something sacred.
If the U.S. can recover the core values of respect for all people, regardless of race or religious creed, its chances of improving the lives of its citizens at home and ceasing to interfere in the destinies of people abroad will increase. But this will come about only if the U.S. government rethinks its priorities and remembers that its main social contract with its people involves caring for them and improving their lives, and not lining the pockets of the political and military elite.
Valeria Z. Nollan is professor emerita of Russian studies at Rhodes College, and a faculty affiliate at Texas Tech University. She was born in Hamburg, West Germany; she and her parents were Russian refugees displaced by World War II. Her books and articles on Russian literature, cinema, religion, and nationalism have made her an internationally-recognized authority on topics relating to modern Russia. Her new biography of Sergei Rachmaninoff is forthcoming by Reaktion Books of London.