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 : Plausible Scenarios and Dangerous Times
on 2014/4/23 15:10:00 (33 reads)

Paris, April 23, 2014 --The assumption now widely held about Vladimir Putin’s intentions concerning Ukraine are that his Spetsnaz infiltration forces, and the troops attached to Russian military intelligence (the old MVD), will continue to spread disorder and anxiety in Eastern Ukraine, encouraging pro-Russian separatists to go on seizing and fortifying municipal and other official buildings in eastern Ukraine towns.

Russian television and other propaganda media will continue to promote the notion of a general rising in the region by citizens seeking reunion with Mother Russia, offering mass resistance to attack by the sub-standard Ukrainian army (such as it remains), now serving the “fascist” parliament installed in Kiev and backed up by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who has just arrived in Ukraine.

This will be followed — as this scenario of what President Putin plans, and how America will react, continues — by the rescue of these pro-Russian citizens of what Mr. Putin, imitating the czars, now calls “New Russia,” by the 40,000-man Russian regular army that has been waiting at the Russian-Ukrainian frontier to be turned loose. It will reconquer the Russian-speaking Ukrainian regions that were once ruled by the czars.

Minor and rapid clean-up operations will follow to collect the Baltic States, Georgia, and possibly Armenia and Azerbaijan, with a few other lost territories, into the New Russia and its new Eurasian economic alliance.

This will all be done with dazzling speed and efficiency, while Barack Obama and the American Congress stand frozen by uncertainty, and NATO is able to rally only Poland, which is not enough. Sanctions will be tightened. At Fort Bragg, the 82nd Airborne Division will rehearse an opposed drop-and-deployment operation and be put on 48-hour stand-by, only to be stood down at the end of the week.

Columns : What Next in Ukraine?
on 2014/4/16 18:30:00 (924 reads)

As I write, the next step in the Ukraine crisis is unknown. The new authorities in Kiev have sent forces to try to recover the official buildings taken over by pro-Russian forces in the East of Ukraine.

John Brennan of the CIA was in Kiev last weekend, and the Russians claim that the United States is demanding force. There have been rumors of U.S. mercenaries to back up the Ukrainians, whose own forces seem divided and may be incapable of dealing with the uprising — certainly so, if it turns into a conflict with already-infiltrated Russian special troops, or brings a border crossing by Russian regular forces. The last I would doubt will happen because it could so easily spin out of control. The commitment of American mercenaries would be disastrous.

The American people don’t want to fight the Russians, and the Russians would be mad to attack NATO forces or the Baltic States. But I am sure there are people in Moscow just like the people in Washington who say “if we don’t follow through — if we don’t ‘stand our ground’ — we’ll lose our credibility.”

You can hear that already from the Neo-Conservatives in Washington. How much credibility does the United States have left to lose after defeats in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya and — now impending — in Afghanistan? Even in dealing with Israel, the U.S. is now treated by the Netanyahu government and its right-wing cabinet ministers and political allies with studied insolence and defiance.

Neither in Washington nor Moscow does it seem understood that any intervention into another county’s ethnic or civil struggle invites disaster. It is easy to intervene — you have allies already there. But you also have a built-in resistance force which soon will make itself known. The Russians have automatic allies in the eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine, Russian-speaking people who have deep cultural and historical attachments to Russia.

Columns : The Worst Mess since the 1930's
on 2014/4/9 14:40:00 (3865 reads)

Paris, April 9, 2014 – An international disorder unmatched since the interwar 1930s has been created by the drama of Ukraine and the Russians, combined with the inherent self-destructive forces of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the developing civil war over theological as well as political issues inside the Islamic states, and the serious risk of collapse in the European Union.

At least no ideological dictatorships are on the march, nor is any new millenarian totalitarianism apparent, only confusion, incompetence, and intellectual and moral disorder. But these are bad enough, in an over-armed world.

Only one man seems to have a clear ambition. Vladimir Putin wishes to return position and power to Russia, and so far has shown the clear-headedness to deal with those who oppose him.

His is not an ignoble ambition, if the prospective subjects of his Eurasian economic bloc are willing to have it happen, and see advantage in it. Beyond Crimea, this is by no means assured, and eastern Ukraine may prove a stubborn obstacle to the reunion of the Russian-speaking peoples who live on Russia’s western and Baltic frontiers, if that is what President Putin wants.

It might be accomplished diplomatically, which is what he has suggested that he wants –thus Russia’s proposal for referenda in contested areas and negotiations with Western supporters of a new Ukrainian government, possessing a new electoral mandate. But it may not be possible that way, and the quality of the diplomacy thus far displayed by Brussels – by both EU and NATO – and by the United States has amounted to little more than bellicosity and unenforceable threats.

Columns : Europe's Future and the Right
on 2014/4/3 17:20:00 (983 reads)

Paris, April 2, 2014 -- The outcome of the French municipal elections last weekend contributed to the general European unease about the future of the European Union. In May European Parliament elections will take place in the troubled circumstances of economic crisis everywhere but Germany, with tension between the EU, the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine contributing to the uncertainties that exist about the future of the Union, with a notable rise in support for separatist parties in several important countries, one of them – of course – France.

There is also call in the mainstream for revising the fundamental treaties governing the European Union, with a British threat of withdrawal from the European Union, conceivably finding emulators elsewhere, with serious consequences for the new “Europe” which has been the proud political achievement of the West in the past half-century, replacing the European system of warring sovereign nation-states, founded at Westphalia in 1648, with the construction of a new European Union, now with 29 members.

The new European Union system was unable to prevent or accommodate the breakup of Yugoslavia and the terrible ethnic/nationalism wars that followed. Its performance in the financial and economic crisis that has followed the Wall Street crisis of 2008 still is inadequate, jeopardizing the survival of the euro and the European Central Bank, and forcing several states – notably Greece and Portugal -- towards departure.

Since last November its dealings with Ukraine and Russia have been disastrous (as have been Washington’s in trying to force Ukraine into NATO). Its ultimatum to Ukraine demanding that it choose between a Eurasian association with Russia and a mere association (not membership) with the EU, precipitated the collapse of the existing government in February, and overthrow of its leader Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian annexation of Crimea that followed, and what now has become the next thing to a military confrontation between Russia and NATO.

Needless to say, the United States has been doing no better in dealing with these problems and contributed heavily to creating them, but it was the new “Europe” whose problems they were, and the European Union today remains haplessly on the sideline.

Columns : What to do Next?
on 2014/3/26 17:20:00 (1190 reads)

Paris, March 26, 2014 – Here again in the Ukrainian affair we see the Manichean habits of mind of the Cold War, still the most powerful precedent in the last fifty years of American and Western political history and policy studies.

Among commentators and officials the tendency continues to be to frame international affairs in bi-polar terms, as obviously has been the case for the whole “global war against violent extremism” -- as George W. Bush’s “war against Global terror” was renamed by the Obama administration: a war which, under any name, self-evidently has no conceivable possibility of being won.

What that effort accomplished was to cause vast human suffering in the Middle East and Afghanistan, to no positive result; and to inflict devastating collateral damage on international law and justice, on the American practice of habeas corpus and trial by jury of peers, and on the moral character of the American government, whose record in recent years has been to win no victories, but wage wars leaving behind them ruined societies and the grieving innocent.

Today Vladimir Putin is diabolized in Cold War fashion – a “Hitler” according to Hillary Clinton. “A stone-cold killer” (Robert M. Gates). Author of “a global strategy [to] maintain instability” (Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO). “The only language Putin knows is fear” (White house spokesman). Article 5 of the NATO Treaty (declaring that if one member is attacked all will respond) is being cited, as a reminder to Moscow that the three Baltic States are NATO members. President Obama reemphasied on Tuesday that the United States will honor this promise.

Where will Putin strike next? Or will he strike at all? He says no, but Western speculation is that he might invade eastern Ukraine to “protect” the Russian majority there, or do the same in Transnistria, a Russian-speaking political entity inside Moldava (possessing an independence option should Moldava merge with Romania). The Baltic States all have substantial Russian minorities. Then there is Georgia, Armenia… and other “lost” members of the Old Russian Empire or newer U.S.S.R.

U.S. aircraft have appeared in Poland and the Baltics. American naval forces have been ordered to the Black Sea region. President Obama himself has recently reminded listeners that there are “35,000 U.S. military personnel in the Middle East” under “the direction of a president who already has shown himself willing to take military action in the past.” The U.S. and Western Europe seem to be putting themselves into a third world war posture.

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