William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
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Columns : Leave Well Enough Alone in Ukraine
on 2015/3/4 14:20:00 (3151 reads)

Paris, March 2, 2015 – What has the past year of war inside Ukraine been about? The night of the coup or putsch in Kiev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament called for a law prohibiting the use of the Russian language in Ukraine – a supremely stupid act, quickly repudiated by his fellows. But was this what the Ukrainian-language majority sought, and for which it had obtained the support of the United States government? Certainly not.

On the other hand, was the war the debut of a Russian offensive, as Washington claimed, meant to produce the annexation to modern Russia Crimea and other territories that once belonged to Imperial Russia at the height of its extent and power? A certain number of people in Washington think that this is what Vladimir Putin intended, even though this would seem a large and extraordinarily dangerous undertaking in the face of NATO opposition.

A Russian acquaintance of mine has argued that the American-promoted coup was meant to provide for Russia the example of a liberal and pro-Western government, inspiring an eventual new democratic “Maidian” uprising by the Russian people, deposing Mr. Putin and led – why not? – by the late Boris Nemsov.

The immense demonstration inspired in Moscow by Mr. Nemsov’s murder suggest that he would have been a plausible candidate to lead such an uprising, but the opinion mostly expressed in Moscow now is that he had lost favor. But then, when since the revolutionary events of 1917-18. have the people changed the course of Russian events? And that was not a popular movement by the “masses” but a violent seizure of power by a revolutionary cabal of intellectuals.

The fear in the countries on Russia’s margins today is of a conspiracy developed among the minority of Russian loyalists in one or another of the Baltic states, possibly with the assistance of those little green men who appeared in Crimea and the Russian-speaking East of Ukraine to assist in overturning Ukrainian institutions and installing new pro-Russian authorities.

Columns : The Gleam of Opportunity in the Mideast
on 2013/9/18 12:30:00 (7802 reads)

Paris, September 18, 2013 – The Washington debates about the Syrian chemical weapons, and whether there is an Obama “Plan B” by which the United States may yet bomb Syria, seem deaf to what really happened last week.

Russia delivered Syria, its ally, to international negotiations concerning those weapons and their renunciation. This has possibly opened the door to some way to resolve the Syrian civil war. Moscow is now responsible for what its client, Syria, does. All the more is President Putin required to deliver a cooperative President Bashar al-Assad if Moscow continues to insist that the United States renounce military action, even if Syria fails to fulfill the obligations it has accepted.

This means Syria must produce the list of locations where its chemical weapons are stored so that the United Nations and the inspectors of the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons can locate, seize and neutralize Syria’s stocks of chemical munitions. If Mr. Assad fails to do so, Russia is responsible, and must take action to ensure that Syria does fulfill the responsibilities it accepted when it signed the international convention banning chemical weapons.

Syria has subjected itself to international law in this matter. That is highly significant. Washington doesn’t seem to understand the importance of President Assad’s submission to international law. The U.S. has itself has become so indifferent, and even so defiant of international law, that it fails to grasp that the rest of the world wants to see the Assad government submit to international law – and the United States (and Israel) do so as well.

The American administration, however, is acting as though Syria has surrendered to the personal demands of John Kerry and Barack Obama, and is accountable to Washington, and not to international law or the UN, or even to its Russian ally and guarantor.

Washington is acting as if the United States has the right to administer punishment if Syria fails to do what Washington wants. What right? Not a legal right, without a Security Council resolution. To attack on its own, as regional hegemon? That’s the way Washington has been behaving in the Middle East. The results have not been a great success.

Columns : Asia and Isolationism
on 2013/5/30 17:00:00 (8600 reads)

May 29, 2013, Paris – When the Barack Obama administration announced that American foreign policy would “pivot” from Europe and the Middle East towards Asia, some European commentators interpreted the announcement as a return to that isolationism which characterized the United States from its foundation to the two world wars. This interpretation made little sense. If anything, the decision was the result of the notion that China was America’s new rival, and even might become an enemy in the future.

Why this should be so is rarely explained other than by China’s efforts to provide itself with military measures enabling it to project power in a perimeter that includes Guam, an American possession and base, and to a number of countries which are allied, or of interest, to the United States. But China’s rearmament would appear to be elementary prudence – as well as prideful display.

China certainly is no military threat to the continental United States, or to its security, economy, or major national interests. The principal relationship between the two countries is that China is the largest foreign holder of the United States’ external debt. As is well known, for China to call in that debt would hurt China more than it would the United States. China’s disputes with neighboring states in the South China Sea do not directly concern the United States, although Washington has a general interest in the preservation of peaceful relationships throughout the region.

The significance of the shift of Washington’s attention from Europe to the Pacific is overrated, since Europe is much richer and more important to the American economy than is China or any other Far Eastern nation, Japan probably excepted. America and Europe are united by civilization – a civilization that also extends to the Islamic countries. Abraham is the common ancestor of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The United States could in fact do well with a movement in the direction of isolationism. It was a happier and better country when it gave its primary attention to its own affairs. The belief in the exceptional nature and destiny of the United States, of religious origin in the country’s first thirteen colonies, held it aloof for many years from what Woodrow Wilson would in 1916 call the “jealousies and rivalries of the complicated politics of Europe.” Today it is immersed in the jealousies and rivalries – and conflicts and blood-letting – of the Middle East, with, on the whole, little that is constructive to show for it, and much death and horror for which it is responsible.

But Barack Obama’s May 23rd address to the National Defense University in Washington demonstrated that the American commitment to Middle East intervention, and the perpetuation of what by now seems unhappily well established as the perpetual war on terror, has not been shaken.

Columns : Osama bin Laden Lives On
on 2013/3/13 15:50:00 (9405 reads)

Paris, March 13, 2013 — A day will undoubtedly come when Osama bin Laden will occupy the same place in 21st century history books as Gavrilo Princip holds in the histories of the 20th Century. Both committed acts that provoked great wars, brought down empires and profoundly altered their times.

Gavrilo Princip was a student, a Serb nationalist, born in Bosnia in 1894. He was a classmate of a girl who became the wife of a Yugoslav scholar and eventual political exile whom I knew and worked with in New York City in the late 1950s. These events are not that long ago.

Princip touched off the First World War, was responsible for overturning the Austrian, Russian and British empires, unknowingly opening the way to Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, and all that has followed. He died of tuberculosis in 1918.

Osama bin Laden was an impassioned vindicator of Islam, believing he could save it from immense secular powers who were enemies of religion and God. He died at the hands of members of the U.S. Navy, and his body was dropped into the sea.

Princip was a powerless radicalized schoolboy. Osama was a rich member of a powerful family. Each of them changed — or terminated — the lives of millions of people, as well as changing many of us still alive, and members of generations yet unborn. The two did so with the unwitting collaboration of Western political leaders who contributed arrogant violence to violence, believing that the future belonged to them, not to insignificant fanatics. The fanatics have had the last laugh.

Bin Laden was a Saudi-Arabian nationalist of Yemeni family origin, born in 1957, his father’s 17th child. His father divorced his mother, and Osama was brought up with the children of her second husband. The bin Laden family is rich thanks to the father’s construction business, favored by the Saudi Arabian monarchy, and that is today a multinational conglomerate. Osama was educated in private schools in Saudi Arabia and was remarked by his contemporaries for his Wahhabi religious devotion.

In 1979, he joined the supporters of the Pakistan and CIA-backed mujahedeen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He contributed and raised funds for the war and established a camp and training facilities in Pakistan for the mujahedeen.

At the time of Desert Storm, the U.S.-led coalition war that freed Kuwait from Iraq’s invasion and occupation in 1990-’91, the young militant protested Saudi Arabia’s allowing U.S troops to be stationed in his country, the location of his religion’s holiest places, in preparation for the attack on Iraq, and their continued presence there following the war in what the U.S. wished to become a permanent American base in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden’s protests eventually led to his being stripped of Saudi citizenship.

Columns : The Obstacle of History
on 2013/1/16 19:25:50 (9141 reads)

Paris, January 15, 2013 – Earlier this month a senior American diplomat – Philip Gordon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, visited London to give Prime Minister Cameron his instructions: Washington wants Britain inside the EU, where it will blunt Europe’s anti-American impulses and the idea of an independent European quasi-state.

Prime Minister David Cameron is set to speak later this month on renegotiating the terms of U.K. membership in Europe. He is under heavy pressure to call a referendum on continued British membership, which he could lose. Whatever Washington thinks or wants, Prime Minister Cameron is wrestling with powerful popular resistance to Europe in Britain, capable of bringing down his Conservative-Liberal coalition government.

History is probably the most powerful force against him. It is extremely difficult for a people to pry open the grip history has upon their nation – any nation. In Britain, the history of relations with continental Europe is one of threat. Putting aside its earliest history of occupation by migrant peoples from the north, and the Roman conquest, the culturally most powerful influence on England since 1066 has been that of continental Europe and the Normans – who made England their colony in the eleventh century, pushing aside the native rulers and imposing a French-speaking aristocracy.

Today the perceived threat is that of Franco-German European domination, and rule by a “Frenchified” European Union bureaucracy, which consults intellectualized Roman/Napoleonic law rather than Anglo-Saxon Common Law (which simply follows precedent), meddles in affairs the British prefer to settle at home, and represents a continent that in the past harbored dynasties (Hapsburg, Bourbon, Carolingian, Hohenzollern) that always made trouble for Britain.

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