Goethe’s Faust, an ever energetic, never satisfied individual, is the traditional symbol of a Western man. He refuses to stay in the moment and vows never to declare: “Verweile doch, du bist so schön” – “Stay a while, you are so beautiful.” Judging by its elites and by the stories it tells about itself, Modern West has turned into the very opposite of this Faustian man. For the current western leaders, the beautiful moment had already occurred, as was officially pronounced by Francis Fukuyama in his notorious treatise of the1990s, The End of History and the Last Man. That was the moment when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the dreams of the Full Spectrum Dominance and the perennial Pax Americana were cooked up by various neoconservative thinkers and the authors of PNAC. At this “beautiful moment,” such concepts as Truth, West, or Order have finally found their eternal abode in Washington, DC.
Bizarre as Fukuyama’s rejection of change was, it took roots. Of course, Fukuyama dressed it in Hegelian terms, announcing the death of grand narratives and radical revolutions, but underneath these intellectual trappings laid a rather conservative message: “Read my lips: no new paradigms. The history has ended.”
From that moment on, the ever-dynamic USA has fully embraced stasis. Any objective observer is struck by the breakneck speed with which China has developed. Russia has undergone an equally drastic metamorphosis, transformed from socialist and threatening Soviet Union to relatively modern country with its pro-western orientation. Yet, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” is no longer the motto of some prudent Yankee. It is the very basis of recent policies striving for the preservation of the status quo. The economic and political establishment is rather clear about it, as can be witnessed by the Democratic Party and its continuous failures caused by the refusal of its leadership to change.
The embrace of the status quo is especially visible in the realm of foreign policy. Think Tanks – what an appropriate name for these immobile shrines to bankrupt thoughts –are doing job in protecting their thinking from outside influences. Most of their employers are former officials and bureaucrats who perfected the art of applying past solutions to current realities.
Various media talking heads, the intellectuals in Trump cabinet, such as NSA’s H.R. McMaster or Pentagon’s James Mattis, or the pundits from Council of Foreign Affairs or Atlantic Council, rarely venture beyond the parameters set by the needs to preserve the status quo. The clearest articulation of this conservative paradigm has been recently delivered at the 2017 Munich Security Conference promoted as The Best Think Tank Conference. This annual conference, which gathers all the key players of Western foreign policy, has crystallizes into a unified front all the forces of US and EU establishment. It is their push for the status quo, which has obviously overcome President Trump’s initial resistance.
Since it reveals what’s in store for Trump’s foreign policy, it is important to explore the Munich narrative and its main principles, which can be summarized as following: Western order is superior; it needs to be defended from both Russia and from those at home, who challenge its superiority. What’s indispensable for this defense is invigorated NATO and the counterpropaganda, which portrays criticism as “fake news.”
In light of these propositions, which Munich Conference univocally reconfirmed, neither recent Trump actions, nor the statements of the key members of Trump cabinet, appear as unique or strange. Thus, H.R. McMuster, the head of NSA, and one of the intellectuals in Trump’s cabinet declares: “And this [Russian] effort, I believe, is aimed really not at defensive objectives, but at offensive objectives – to collapse the post-World War II, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe, and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.” Likewise, the CIA’s chief, Mike Pompeo observes: “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, has entitled his annual report as “Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order?”, suggesting therefore, that any move beyond Western dominance inevitable entails the loss of truth and order. To fend off this terrible situation, one has to return to Western verities: “Despite its various flaws, the liberal international order has, in the bigger scheme of things, allowed for a remarkable era of peace and economic development.” (p. 10). In other words, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The polite, almost academic tone of the discussion–as it frequently happens in the west — hides a rather harsh reality. “Remarkable era of peace and development” is not going to give in easily. It is ready to resort to all sorts of machinations, including military aggression, to preserve itself. This is the blueprint, which has been dutifully echoed by the majority of the participants, that is, by the military, political, and intellectual leaders of the West. It is to this blueprint, that the US president, Donald Trump, has quickly returned, despite his initial challenge of the status quo.
First, Ischinger articulates the threats to the Status Quo, depicting them as antithetical to western values: “Western societies are troubled by the emergence of populist movements that oppose critical elements of the liberal-democratic status quo. From outside, Western societies are challenged by illiberal regimes trying to cast doubt on liberal democracy and weaken the international order. ..… “The past twelve months have been a resounding rejection of the status quo. In several elections and referenda, political outsiders succeeded, while the establishment was dealt major blows.” (p. 6)
These dangers are repeated again and again, until they begin to sound like a mantra, an incantation, to be delivered to various governments and citizens: Barbarians are at the doors and the western order is in danger: “The rise of the populists has rapidly become a systemic challenge that threatens to undermine the liberal international order the world’s liberal democracies have built and upheld since the end of World War II … the populists at home and the illiberal regimes abroad form a formidable challenge to the main elements of the liberal international order.” (8)
And of course it is Russia, which is usually referred to as “illiberal regime”: “While Western officials have repeatedly argued that “there is no military solution” to the war in Syria, Russia and its allies pursued one – and seem to be successful … In Ukraine, Russia has violated several key principles governing European security. … Is this a post-order world in which the elements of the liberal international order are fading away because no one is there to protect them?“ (10).
The possibility of post-Western world, where Russia can preserve and assert its interests, is categorically denied and the call to arms is issued: “Despite its various flaws, the liberal international order has, in the bigger scheme of things, allowed for a remarkable era of peace and economic development… Since its creation, NATO has been a central pillar of the Western-led order – and the crucial security link connecting the US, Canada, and their European allies… The European Union is under pressure, too, as it has to deal with Brexit, a populist surge, the refugee crisis, a potential return of the euro crisis, jihadist attacks, and a revisionist Russia.” (8-10) The enemies’ list is remunerated and Russia’s role is defined: “revisionist Russia.” The liberal order and such institutions that support it, be it NATO or EU, are to be strengthen while those who challenge it, are to be pushed back.
This program, articulated by Ischinger, was echoed by numerous participants, including such US luminaries, as Vice President Pence, Defense Secretary, Mathis, and Senator John McCain. Thus, John McCain was quite eloquent about his willingness to fight to preserve western dominance: “We … cannot allow ourselves to question the rightness and goodness of the West… I refuse to accept the end of the West. I refuse to accept the demise of our world order. …. I refuse to accept that our values are morally equivalent to those of our adversaries. I am a proud, unapologetic believer in the West.”
One is tempted to ask: which West do you have in mind, Senator McCain? The one that unleashed Nazi Germany unto the world? The one that vaporized civilians in Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki? The one that, turned Cambodia into Zombistan, bombed and dismantled Yugoslavia, wreaked havoc in Iraq and Syria and condoned neo-Nazis in Ukraine and Al Qaeda in the Middle East?
Yet, this highly ambivalent western status quo has to be defended militarily: “From the ashes of the most awful calamity in human history was born what we call the West—a new, and different, and better kind of world order… The unprecedented period of security and prosperity that we have enjoyed for the past seven decades did not happen by accident. It happened not only because of the appeal of our values, but because we backed them with our power and persevered in their defense.”
And then comes the most relevant part. It falls on US to provide this military backbone to the west, and it will do so, some temporary difficulties emanating from the White House, non-withstanding:
I know there is profound concern across Europe and the world that America is laying down the mantle of global leadership. I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that is the message you will hear from all of the American leaders who cared enough to travel here to Munich this weekend. That is not the message you heard today from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. That is not the message you will hear from Vice President Mike Pence. That is not the message you will hear from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. And that is certainly not the message you will hear tomorrow from our bipartisan congressional delegation.
Well, Senator McCain has clearly delivered on his promise. Since then, President Trump, has been pushed back into the matrix and fully embraced the status-quo narrative, including his renewed NATO commitment and his willingness to cast Russia as an enemy of the west and the supporter of bloodthirsty regimes. Trump’s surrender to this status quo discourse, has been completed and sealed by his order to bomb Syria and Afghanistan. Trump and his cohort appear to be reading from the script reinforced at this conference: a familiar narrative polished through the years of the Cold War.
So the idea of “Post-Western World Order,” which makes perfect sense in light of the BRIC ascendance, has been soundly dismissed by the majority of the Munich Conference participants. It is NATO and the West all the way.
It is also clear, that the bogeyman was designated or rather reconfirmed during these proceeding. This honorary role has fallen on Russia once again. Luckily for the ideologues that wrote the script, Russia’s role in Ukraine and Syria provided enough rhetorical tools to cast it as the threat to the sacred liberal western order. The matrix has been set, and any attempt to break out of it, will be dismissed as fake news, propaganda and so on.
All the brave Russian dissidents, Polish and Baltic politicians, or Syrian or Iranian refugees are utilized to promote one concept: Russia is the same, dangerous and corrupt; Iran is the same as at the time of Ayatollah, Syria is the same. And therefore these countries should be contained.
In light of this well-oiled narrative, it is hardly surprising that Lavrov speech with its call for Post-Western world order, and its reference to NATO as the relic of cold war, fell on the dead ears. In the house of the Status-Quo you don’t argue for change. If a Cold War is needed to prop up Western World Order and NATO, the Cold War will be conjured up and ushered in.
The longevity of this model, suggests that it is rather functional. Designating Russia as a dangerous enemy rather than a potential ally enables the west to embark on the win-win situation. Either Russia will buckle up and surrender, or it will fight back, reveal its aggressive side, and thus underscore the need to preserve the military might of the Western Liberal Order. It is quite telling that the British Foreign Minister, Boris Jonhson, has refused to go to Moscow after Trump’s decision to bomb Syria, accusing president Assad, along with his ally Putin, in orchestrating the chemical attack against its population. The script has already been written; the role of the villain assigned; why go to Moscow and learn of facts that can complicate the story? Playing the role of a good cop, Johnson counterpart, Rex Tillerson, did go to Russia, only to reiterate after his meeting that the story stands. In fact, Tillerson’s remarks at the conclusion of his Moscow visit are quite telling. On the one hand he asserts that Russia is an enemy and should follow the Western script or else; on the other, he suggests that nuclear powers have to talk to each other. “There is a low level of trust between our two countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.” In other words, lets go back to the Cold War status quo: Russia will be pounded as enemy, but without nuclear escalation.
The establishment’s conviction that Russia is too weak to offer military resistance to Western dominance, yet, not crazy enough to appeal to nukes, has been formulated by the original establishment candidate for the US presidency, Hillary Clinton. In her email of November 30, 2015 she claimed that Russia wouldn’t stay in the way of American assertion of dominance. Russia has done nothing in 1999 in Serbia, and it won’t do anything in the future. Pushing for the aggressive policy in Syria, Secretary Clinton maintained:
Unlike in Libya, a successful intervention in Syria would require substantial diplomatic and military leadership from the United States. Washington should start by expressing its willingness to work with regional allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to organize, train and arm Syrian rebel forces… The second step is to develop international support for a coalition air operation. Russia will never support such a mission, so there is no point operating through the UN Security Council. Some argue that U.S. involvement risks a wider war with Russia. But the Kosovo example shows otherwise. In that case, Russia had genuine ethnic and political ties to the Serbs, which don’t exist between Russia and Syria, and even then Russia did little more than complain.
Despite various triumphant assertions, the Western dominance is on the decline, and its reign hardly brought peace or economic development to large segments of the world population, including the western countries themselves. Yet, the struggling order is willing to do anything to prop itself up. From the engine of development it has turned into its break.
Consequently, we can conclude that most if not all recent foreign policies decisions are not driven by, say, Russophobia, or desire to create chaos or redraw the borders in Middle East. It is naïve to blame Zionists or Islamophobes for recent political decisions. There is simply this neurotic need to preserve the Status Quo, while designating certain populations as its threat. It is not the NWO anymore, it is OWO: Old World Order. Neocons and their think tanks are not dangerous revolutionaries bend on transforming the world. They are old fogies who want things to remain the same. Washington consensus, Washington playbook and other well-established paradigms, promote nothing but violent resistance to change.
This pro-western triumphalism clearly brings to mind a myopic estimation of Russia, expressed by one of the tsar Nicholas I’s officials: ““Russia’s past is glorious, beautiful and heroic, its present is magnificent, grand, and beautiful, and its future is so remarkable that can’t be described.” We know from serious academic studies, such as Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), that such societies are doomed. Sooner or later paradigm shifts, and those who vested in the old paradigm, come crushing down, does not matter whether they the proponents of Ptolemaic astronomy, Newtonian physics, Marxist economics, or neocon philosophy.