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Is There Indeed a Need for a US-Russian dialogue on the Middle East and the World?

A fine US soldier, General Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of Joints Chiefs of Staff, was at one point struggling to detail a strategy for global US partnerships. There was, and we suspect there is still, a need to define a theoretical framework of that strategy. This need stems from the fact that the US is either unable or unwilling to be the police force of the world. The fact that Western countries are now debating what to do with Russia is an indication that General Dempsey did not finish his job.

However, the concept of partnerships has never been alien to US strategies in previous decades. But it was based on a case by case study, therefore, it did not assume the form of a general doctrine with universal guidelines. We are not sure, however, that it should. The argument for a case-by-case approach is based on strong and convincing points, as much as the counter argument-that calls for a general theory with general rules.

In the case of Russia, for example, Henry Kissinger gave a lecture at the Gorchakov Fund in Moscow On February 4 of last year where he discussed some of the issues related to US-Russia ties. It is possible, of course, to extract from what Dr. Kissinger said there some thoughts on how he sees the general question of global partnership.

Obviously, the “mother” issue is US-Russian relations. Though the two sides, according to Kissinger, understood the need to work together, “Regrettably, the momentum of global upheaval has outstripped the capacities of statesmanship”. In other words, General Dempsey’s or any other theory in that regard would have to be flexible enough to allow space to the unknown variable: global upheaval. It is particularly here that the question becomes more difficult to the extent of raising uncertainty about the need for such a theory from the start. However, even in regional crises, if a Russian-US partnership is there, we will see less threats of regional escalations. Once competition is replaced with coordination, regional upheavals could be contained in most part.  

But in any case, the base of any partnership is the interests, at the moment, of the partners and their ability to find general common grounds. Inasmuch as those interests are clear to their beholders and to the potential partners, we arrive at a kind of foundation for practical steps. Hence, the first rule is to define the common objectives of the partnership, if they exist, and the second is to allow any proposed formula to accommodate the core interests of the partners, with the usual give and take. If any of those foundational rules is not there, there will be no partnership.

It boils down, then, to the US deciding if there are joint objectives with Russia, in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and if there is a possibility to find a joint accommodation to the interests of the two countries.

However, it is obvious that most of the US “establishment” did not face yet these two basic questions. It may be due to inertia or the instinctive resistance to major changes after decades of Cold War and wars of proxies. And it may be also due to the objective absence of any way to work with a country like Russia, where the only motivation behind its foreign policy is geopolitical calculations and security considerations. Either way, the question raised by President Trump, of all people, to try to find ways to work with Russia should be faced with no prefixed ideas. The goal is not to reach a short-term agreement with Moscow on a regional issue. Rather, it is to head directly to a joint definition of a new world order.

But as Dr. Kissinger phrased it: “The danger today is less a return to military confrontation than the consolidation of a self-fulfilling prophecy in both countries. The long-term interests of both countries call for a world that transforms the contemporary turbulence and flux into a new equilibrium which is increasingly multipolar and globalized”.  

In other words, and by virtue of the changed world that we have after the Cold War, regional upheavals threaten, not only to continue outstripping the capacities of statesmanship to a point of global danger, but also to worsen regional conflicts.

The problem now is not that the US and the USSR have acquired massive destruction capabilities, it is rather that states all over the place collapse or weakened to the extent that this vacuum leads to the rise of all kinds of lunatic and dangerous forces. While the two countries may see those lunatic forces as they truly are, there is always, in each side, the temptation to use their presence to achieve some individual goals at the expense of the other. The skills to do that have accumulated during the Cold War, and they refuse to retire. Old habits do not die easily, even if the whole game has been objectively shelved.

We see this, for example, in the case of Russia’s assistance to the Taliban (which we covered in another story of this issue of MEB). The issue, for the Russians, ceased in this case to be supporting a state. It turned to be getting NATO out for Moscow’s own geostrategic and security belt. Moscow has been criticizing the US for allegedly shaking state structures in the Middle East. But what it is doing is Afghanistan is not different.

There is indeed a need for a Russian-American candid dialogue, not on regional issues, but on emerging forces and trends that gradually shape the world order at the present moment, and how do those forces collide with world stability and peace. Just debating this issue, on its merits, does not necessarily that the debaters will find ways to forge such an understanding between the two powers. It is possible that they may find out that reaching a global understanding with Russia, particularly in European and Middle Eastern security, is impossible due to ambitions and high expectations, or due to old mentalities. But it is worth a while to give it a sincerer trial. All this political and partisan warfare in Washington are not helping the US debate the real issues facing the country in a troubled world. It is bewildering to see this fight while the country is faced with serious challenges. Distractions should not be allowed to paralyze the US or cover the real issues that need to be discussed.  

Regions, like the Middle East, will greatly benefit from an American-Russian dialogue. For we all realize that the Middle East is where all the challenges to the world order, in a distilled form, appear before our eyes. An arrangement to get this region to focus on construction, education, trade and development is necessary now more than ever. If the two sides, the US and Russia, keep focusing only on short-term gains and sales and hitting each other in the back, they will both lose in the longer-term. If those games go on, those who know the old history of that part of the world see a future that is not pretty, to the region and to the world alike. It may be time to leave partisanship and personal feelings at the door, and find ways to open roads and explore ways to turn Trump’s instinctive, and at times crude, thought about partnership with Russia into a strategy for a new world order.   

April 6. 2017

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