Should The US Fight A New Cold War With Russia, Or Cooperate With Russia To Integrate The Gap?

As I reported in my post unveiling, there are going to be weekly discussion panels moderated by Vlad Sobell. This is the first one I participated in. It is on the topic of US-Russia Relations Against the Backdrop of Word-wide Muslim Protests. Is this a clash of civilizations? Should the US patch up ties with Russia and forget about New Cold War in order to free resources for the greater challenge from radical Islamists?

I think I will be reposting my contributions to these Panels on this blog for the foreseeable future, with a time delay of a few days so that maxes out on traffic. Here is my first contribution:

The American democratization agenda for the Middle East appears to be based around two premises: (1) The Arabs want the strongmen out; (2) They desire a Western-style liberal democracy. Consequently, aggressively supporting the transition should ease the US into the Arabs’ good graces – with all its attendant, oily benefits.

The first point is largely true. The second is not. Although large majorities of Arabs support concepts such as “democracy” and “free speech” in opinion polls, they should not be taken at face value. That is because similar majorities also support stoning for adultery and the death penalty for apostasy. In these circumstances the very idea of a “liberal democracy” is a contradiction in terms. To paraphrase a relevant sentence from the Tsarist-era book Vekhi, “Thank God for the prisons and bayonets, which protect us from the people’s fury!”

This is because the “clash of civilizations” isn’t something that is “fomented” by radical Islamists (or Western Islamophobes, for that matter). It is an actually existing state of affairs and “democratization” will only fully disrobe it, not make it go away.

The Europeanized liberals who were the motor of the protests in Egypt only constitute about 5% of that country’s population. While removing the dictator – be he a relatively benign one like Mubarak, or a bloodthirsty one like Gaddafi – liberates not only the intelligentsia, but also the (far more numerous) Islamist opposition. Of the foreign jihadists fighting in Iraq, it was rumored that Benghazi – focal point of resistance against the Jamahiriya – contributed the most per capita. Now Libya is a chaotic jumble of heavily armed gangs and militias, many of them with Islamist sympathies. Despite promises not to field a Presidential candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did precisely that and won the elections; since then, the old-regime generals have been replaced and the Brotherhood has consolidated its political dominance over the country. In the meantime, the economy has ground to a standstill.

Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, Ben Ali, etc. may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but they did foster an adequate, if non-stellar pace of development; protected the rights of minorities such as the Coptic Christians; and typically maintained non-hostile, constructive relations with the West, Russia, and even Israel. It is unclear whether any of this will be preserved in the years ahead. They will certainly become more “democratic” – Iran, after all, is far more democratic now that it was under the Shah –  but to what extent they will (or can) truly respect freedom of speech or worship is another question entirely. As strikingly shown in the past few days, there are problems even with honoring basic international norms like diplomatic immunity – and these are not without precedent (Chris Stephen’s ancestor by fate is Alexander Griboyedov, the poet diplomat killed and mutilated by a mullah-provoked Tehran mob in 1829).

But you can’t turn the clock back; we will have to learn to live with the new regimes emerging out of the Middle East unrest. One can hope for two things. First, that the West realizes that in terms of civilizational values, Russia and even China (all part of the “Functioning Core”, to borrow from Thomas P.M. Barnett) are far closer to it than most of the Muslim world, and adjusts policy accordingly. Second, that it takes a more balanced and realistic view towards these developments in the Arab world. For instance, it could recognize the Syrian conflict as a civil war, as opposed to a universal uprising against the dark lord Assad (and as such stop making unrealistic demands for him to step down as a precondition for talks).

Realistically, however, I suspect it will be a winter’s day in hell before the West’s infatuation with the Arab Spring is over.


  1. alan b'stard M P says:

    Germany is run by kikes

    AK: Shouldn’t you be at Stormfront? Please behave and stay on topic if you wish to continue commenting here.

  2. I personally do not believe that China is closer to West in civilizational values than Middle-Eastern countries. We are genetically close, share common history and have practically identical religion with muslims east of Pakistan and north of Nigeria. Throughout the history all abrahamic religions are usually tolerated themseves, but fought violently against all others. So it is easy to imagine, that certain cold peace is at least possible – along the lines of Peace of Augsburg.
    But I do not believe that messianic West will ever really tolerate the pragmatic Chinese culture.

    • I disagree with this.

      East Asia and Europe are actually remarkably similar, in relative global terms, once one passes superficial things. Both developed on the basis of bureaucratic states. The system in China now is a Western import: German Marxist and the Leninist NEP. They are relatively clannish, but not any more so than, say, Italy. Their society is stable and internally non-violent in a way that much of the Islamic world isn’t. The Chinese are more socially conservative than Westerners, of course, but only in the same way as Russia (or Estonia) – in that they are roughly where the West was in the 1970’s.

      The Arabs are a lot different. Their origins are as desert nomads. As a rule, their primary allegiance is to their clan or to Islam – but not their state, or other Arabs (despite the best efforts of the great Arab nationalist leaders). The family structure is completely different – up to 50% of marriages are consanguineous, which simply has no parallels in any European or East Asian culture. This makes for societies that are very different from German, Russian, Estonian, and Chinese ones.

      Even as regards religion, Christianity finds much in common with Buddhism (spiritually) and Confucianism (politically); and in its Gnostic variants, it has fascinating similarities to Taoism. Neither are aggressively expansionist or just plain cruel in the same way that Islam or Judaism – religions that grew out of the desert – are.

      While its true that Chinese are just simply more practical and materialistic than both the “West” and “Islam”, I still say that on the really crucial issues, the West and China have far more in common with each other than either than with most of the Islamic world.

  3. I’d say China is very alien, as is Japan, although the latter has developed in an oddly parallel way (from medieval chivalry to Pope-like Emperor to Industrialism-Fascism-Consumerism). The Islamic world has a much longer history of interaction (and not just violent, but also intellectual exchange) with the West (Christendom) and they share a lot from their common monotheistic heritage.

    Of course that’s mainly historical. Secularism, mostly triumphant in the West, is considered Satanic in much of the Islamic world. I don’t know if this is essential. Muslims outside the Middle East seem to be pretty “moderate” for the most part, often more similar to their African/Central Asian/Southeast Asian neighbors than to their fellow Muslims. The Middle East and North Africa however has been completely corrupted. It’s a mess of fundamentalism, militarism, authoritarianism, imperialism, war, etc. Obviously this isn’t simply a spontaneous development but a mix of endogenous factors and the Middle East’s place in the world (e.g., consistent subjugation by imperial powers).

    • I would actually argue that, first impressions regardless, China is far more similar to the West than Japan which is peculiarly unique according to all my acquaintances who spent any significant time there. With China, however, they don’t hesitate in trying to compare it to various European countries (incidentally, most frequently to France and Russia). 🙂

      And I don’t dispute your characterization of Muslims / the ME. Still, I really think the biopolitical element is relatively underestimated. It is not Islam or even imperialism as such but the degree of consanguineous marriage (esp. fbd marriage) that has a remarkable influence on stuff like Islamic radicalism and corruption and so forth. hbd chick has some fascinating and pretty persuasive material on this. But I digress. This stuff is probably more suited for AKarlin.

  4. Speaking of intersections of fate. Strangely enough fate has led me to Griboyedov’s grave in Tbilisi around the same time Stevens was killed.

  5. …..I would actually argue that, first impressions regardless, China is far more similar to the West than Japan ….
    As long as everybody means something else by the “west” people will not be on the same wave length.
    Who or which country is the “west”?
    There are not two similar answers in the world.

  6. I have had to do business with both Chinese and Arabs. I have never had the slightest problem finding a common language with Chinese. I have always found this very difficult with Arabs. Bear in mind that as a Greek I come from the European country and culture that is closest to that of the Arab world.

    I accept that this is a personal view but most people I know who have had to deal with both cultures share my view.

  7. Dear Anatoly,

    Turning to the point of your article, I remember that shortly after 9/11 I met with a Russian friend and I happened to mention the impossibility of any Russian government even Stalin’s or of any group of Russians perpetrating a similar atrocity on US soil as the one jihadi fundamentalists had just perpetrated. He emphatically agreed with me as I am sure any Russian would. The plain fact is that for all the cultural differences and issues between them Americans and Russians can reason with each other. What reasoning can there be with people who are prepared to kill themselves in order to carry out an atrocity like the one we saw on 9/11?

    By the way I am sure that what I said about Russians applies equally to Chinese. Mao had some bizarre ideas about the benefits of nuclear war but he never put them to the test and apparently never seriously considered doing so and no other Chinese seems to have thought as he did.

    • Agreed. There were rumors that Mao said something to Brezhnev at the time of the Sino-Soviet split to the effect that the USSR would run out nuclear bombs before China ran out of peasants. This seems tied in with the rumor that Brezhnev approached Nixon upon getting wind of Kissinger’s secret diplomacy to China and offered to let the USA and USSR both nuke China together. The former rumor seems plausible given Mao’s madness at the time of the Cultural Revolution, the latter does not.

  8. Briefly, on the subject of Iran, it is one of the more democratic states in the Middle East. The Iranian people voted for Ahmadinejad by a landslide despite his hardline Islamic views. The most carefully researched academic study has refuted the claims of election fraud made by the Green opposition following Ahmadinejad’s election victory. As we know the opposition protests quickly fizzled out despite all the euphoric articles in the western media about an Iranian Spring and despite difficult economic conditions in Iran the country seems to have avoided the unrest visible in the Arab world. If one puts wishful thinking to one side it is difficult to see in all of this anything other than evidence of the deep roots and widespread support in Iran for the present Islamic regime. In practical terms that means a society based on Islamic law with all that follows from that and one must therefore assume that that is what a plurality and probably a majority and even perhaps a large majority of Iranians want.

    • Jennifer Hor says:

      Dear Alex,

      Iran is an anomaly among Middle Eastern states as the official religion there is Twelver Shi’ism which has a strong messianic element. Most Arab countries on the other hand either have Sunni Islam as the main or official religion, or they have a potentially unstable situation where the poor or working class is Shi’ite and the elite classes are Sunni (Bahrain and Iraq are like this). I have been told that Shi’ite Islam is a flexible religion that copes with change more easily than Sunni Islam because Shi’ites more readily accept intermediaries between Allah and humans (intermediaries such as Grand Ayatollahs, special imams and messiahs) who may or may not claim semi-divine or at least charismatic abilities, and can persuade people to change their attitudes, customs and traditions. Also because of the messianic aspect (Twelver Shi’ism accepts 12 divinely inspired imams, the last of whom disappeared mysteriously and is supposed to return during a time of great crisis), Shi’ism is future-oriented whereas Sunni Islam looks back to the past when the prophet Mohammed was alive and tries to emulate his example and the society he lived in. So already there is a huge divide between Iran and the Arab world in time orientation and attitude to social change due to the Sunni / Shi’ite split.

      I’ve heard also that Iranians often have very ambivalent attitudes to Islam that range from resignation to outright hatred because it was brought to Iran by Arab conquest and many if not most Iranians hate Arabs. On the other hand, Iranians don’t seem too keen on Zoroastrianism (even though they celebrate old Zoroastrian traditions like Persian New Year) or adopt the Bahai religion which started as a Persian Islamic sect. Some Iranians who come to Australia convert to Christianity out of spite for Islam.

      I’m aware of course that most Iranians in Australia were middle class people back in Iran with a secular background and outlook, and who had nothing in common with working class people whose support President Ahmadinejad relies on. Ahmadinejad comes across as a socially conservative and populist leader with a technical background (PhD in traffic management). The New Yorker had a very good article on him some years ago. I sometimes wonder whether we in the West have a hard time understanding Ahmadinejad because of his engineering background. From what I’ve seen online and heard, he has clashed with the religious conservatives in parliament and Grand Ayatollah Khamenei hates him so I think his views are not as hardline or conservative as most of us suppose.

      The so-called liberal opposition in Iran appears analogous to the liberal opposition in Russia: heavily middle class and urban, and infiltrated by foreign influences. One reason Mir Hossein Moussavi lost in the 2009 Presidential elections is that his campaign was not well organised and restricted to cities, plus he had nothing to offer working class and rural people other than “market reforms” which would have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon.

  9. On the so called the ” West ”
    From BBC
    The last Western [ Omar Khadr ] detainee at Guantanamo Bay prison has returned to his native Canada.
    So, this guy is a westerner, and I who was born in Croatia with a Slavic name am not.
    What have I done wrong and to whom?
    Does a westerner mean to blow up other people, steal money like LIBOR, destabilize other countries, manipulate with people, establishment of ICC in Den Haag for others and other million negative things?
    What is it the west?
    Is the west; Berlusconi, Pussy Riot, Tony Blair, Gay Pride and drones, high unemployment and migration?
    How many people have left UK in the last hundred years?
    Since what point of time has UK become the west?
    Was she also the west when UK was involved in slave trade?
    Was the west Italy before it has become American satellite?
    I am just asking….

  10. It is interesting to note how often Anglo-Americans used radical islamists against their enemies be they Christian, Islamic, Buddhist or whatever. Take Lourence of Arabia, mujaheddins in Afganistan, Eritrea, Bosnia, Russia’s North Caucuses, Kosovo, Libya, Syria or Uyguria. So there is no clash of civilization. Instead we see managment/utilization of a simpier system by a way more complex system

  11. I tend to agree with Anatoly, and partly disagree with my son Lauris. China has significant similarities with the post-Christian, post-Enlightenment humanist West. The dominant philosophy in China has been the Confucian brand of humanism. And I believe that it was precisely the Chinese influence that was instrumental in giving birth to the Enlightenment. Such intellectuals as Voltaire and Leibniz were influenced by Chinese culture that reached them via the Jesuit reports, and there seems to have been a Chinese influence in the classical laissez-faire economists in Europe. In China nobody was was supposed to identify himself/herself by religious affiliation, religion was a strictly private matter as it tends to be in the West, unfortunately not so much
    in the US. I think the Dar ul-Islam needs a similar awakening as the Christian World, and perhaps China can, here too, play a role. I have heard such thoughts from an Arab professor. As to Iran, I think such a turn is highly possible there. Tourists coming back trom Iran tell that people there were eager to express their opposition to both the political leaders and the ayatollahs. Maybe Iran will become the first post-Islamic country in not too distant future. I don’t mean Islam will vanish but it will become a private matter as it has been in China and largely is in the West.