Friday, February 17, 2006

From Russia with No Love

It is becoming obvious that Russia is seeing an opening in the circle of global diplomacy. It also seems obvious that Russia will play -- is playing -- this to their advantage.

After having been insular for sometime, mostly due to years of unseemly infighting or worse, the savy Russians have moved into the void left by the Bush administration on the world stage. While the White House continues to pursue the path of armed military conflict or threat of such to resolve issues, manufactured and not, Russia has moved to the fore in recent months as the leaders in exercising diplomacy and negotiation. This is not to say that Putin is incapable of using a heavy hand. It is obvious that he is. But Russia is choosing the road that was previously America's forte. I suspect that this is being done largely by design.

The negotiations Russia has been conducting (along with China) with Iran in an effort to prevent a Bush administration-led assault has been notable for one reason: it is now Russia that looks to be the reasoned and level-headed power. This is not to say that Russia does not have ulterior motives for this; it certainly does. But so had the United States through all its diplomatic efforts back when diplomacy was its first, second and third choices to solve problems. Despite myriad misuses of covert meddling operations around the world, the US has used diplomacy to publically position itself advantageously. But that is the point of diplomacy. At least this was true before the Bush administration moved onto the scene.

Its quite certain that Putin knows how badly Bush administration's policies have weakened the US, both domestically and globally. Buried in debt and trade deficits and sporting a seriously compromised federal bureaucracy, straining its military to a near breaking point, stomping the ground like a bully, the United States has lost a great deal of authority and the Russians know this. It may be one of the reasons why Bush has co-opted France and Germany in the Iranian situation.

And now, while the Bush administration considers plans for the ouster of Hamas from the Palestinian Authority, Russia is actually asking Hamas to join the peace process, rather than choosing to simply dismiss their existence outright. Whatever you may think about Hamas, and much of it may not be good, this outreach is not really about Hamas. It is about Russia and that country's choice to engage rather than shun. While the US openly threatens attack on Iran and considers a coup in the West Bank, Russia has quietly become the reasoned player. There maybe some very black motives behind this and it has to be viewed guardedly; Putin is a ruthless leader who knows what he is doing.

Which is exactly why it makes this situation dangerous. Because Putin is up against another ruthless leader who has no idea what he is doing.

The diference is that Putin knows this. And Bush does not.


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