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US-Russia Redux: The Problem with Intellectual Insincerity

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There are numerous intellectual sources, from think tanks to governmental agencies, both in the United States and Russia, which are deeply concerned about the state of Russian-American relations.

Places like the Moscow Carnegie Centre or the Brookings Institution in Washington DC are regular go-to places for the media when seeking expert opinion and analysis. However, these centers of independent knowledge production have had a decided slant in allocating blame for the poor bilateral relations to the Russian side, with the explanations ranging from the fairly simple to the rather mystically esoteric.

“If America did not exist, Russia would have to invent it. In a sense it already has: first as a dream, then as a nightmare. No other country looms so large in the Russian psyche. To Kremlin ideologists, the very concept of Russia’s sovereignty depends on being free of America’s influence. Anti-Americanism has long been a staple of Vladimir Putin, but it has undergone an important shift. Gone are the days when the Kremlin craved recognition and lashed out at the West for not recognizing Russia as one of its own. Now it neither pretends nor aspires to be like the West. Instead, it wants to exorcise all traces of American influence.”

It is not difficult to find this Freudian-type of political psycho-babble today when it comes to ‘analyzing’ Russian positions. The United States tries to portray itself as the victim of a global oedipal complex when it comes to Russia: first Putin desperately craves daddy’s attention; then defiantly and recklessly rejects him; only to then petulantly try to run away from home. Most countries around the world would actually find it dangerously myopic and unhealthy to base its foreign policy on earning the ‘approval’ of another country. The far more standard approach to foreign policy formulation is to determine a country’s own national interests and craft an independent position best able to achieve its own optimal goals.

And that, incredulously, is what is being described above in America as a ‘shift:’ from craving attention to striving to exorcise American demons. In reality there is no shift at all: Russia has always been about Russia, as it expects America to be about America, France to be about France, Nigeria to be about Nigeria, so forth and so on. What Russia finds so irksome is that when it does what everyone else does on the issue of global positioning, it is judged as psychologically unstable or mentally deficient. What the American media outlets and think tank personalities fail to recognize is how much of this judgment is not from observable behavior or direct quotes from relevant actors, but is instead from so-called experts pushing a decidedly one-sided interpretation of the agenda.

Russia is not supposed to aspire to be a copy of or mimic for the West. Nor should it be allowing any particular American influence over its policy decisions. This is not said as an anti-American statement but rather as simple foreign policy logic: America would never strive to copy another country and it most certainly does not endorse another country trying to force-influence its foreign policy. So why should Russia? It is this very straightforward question that seems to never be asked by what are otherwise august media institutions and impressive political think tanks in the West.

Sometimes this tendency can reach near farcical levels. When Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign-relations committee, spoke about ridding Russia of dependence on America and even ridiculously commenting about fining cinemas that show too many foreign films, it was up to Western experts on Russia to recognize the absurd for what it is: just absurdity. Failure to do so is especially egregious given so much Western political analysis over the past fifteen years has lamented the strengthening and deepening of Putin’s own presidential power system. Decrying how little power sits within the legislative or judiciary branches of Russian government means it is nonsensical to then highlight parliamentarians as having real impact and relevance on Russian-American relations. But this happens quite a bit in American media outlets and think tanks without anyone ever taking the time to point out the blatant contradiction.

This bias is only more pronounced when you leave academically-oriented think tanks/news monitors and observe opinions within the corridors of American power. Traditionally, this decidedly anti-Russian fervor came from the Republican Party. However, this analysis would argue that except for a very brief and ultimately dashed Obama ‘reset,’ attitudes about Russian-American interaction within Washington DC has always been dominated in both parties by a largely Republican mindset.

That mindset sets a fairly stark characterization: Russia is an aggressive and untrustworthy dictatorship that is an innate contradiction to American values. As such it will inevitably always be a threat to U.S. interests and global security. By all indicators, Russia is a threat not just to itself and its immediate neighbors but to the entire world, masking its own domestic failings and instabilities with an aggressive foreign policy that will never acquiesce to a more peaceful and cooperative global community. Indeed, when American politicians specialize in ambiguous statements and plausible deniability, it is rather remarkable how freely the American Congress seems to deride Russia:

John Boehner: “It is increasingly evident that Russia is intent on expanding its boundaries and power through hostile acts.”

Ted Poe: “The Russian bear is coming out of its cave because it got its feelings hurt because of the fall of the Soviet Union, and not it is trying to regain its territories.”

Chris Smith: accused a “repressive Russian regime” of “coddling dictators” around the globe from Central Asia to Syria to Cuba and Venezuela.

Trent Franks: After the conclusion of an arms deal between Russia and Venezuela, President Putin was called a “thugocrat” engaged in “dangerous alliances.

Keep in mind all of the above statements were uttered before the 2014 crisis in Ukraine even broke out. So before the U.S. Congress saw what it considers undeniable and irrefutable proof of Russian aggression, it already viewed Russia as a corrupt kleptocracy willfully abusing human rights, powered by an irrational and paranoid hatred of the United States.

There also tends to be a failure to place Russian analysis through the looking glass of reciprocity. What this means is that current American thinking emphasizes how untrustworthy Moscow decision-makers are, or how there is no real point in talking with the Kremlin, while completely ignoring or dismissing the very real Russian criticism that lobs the same complaint back at Washington. President Putin openly and publicly discusses his lack of trust in American power and in the specific policy decisions emanating from the White House. It is because of this skepticism, even cynicism, that he claims forces his own lack of desire to engage the United States. There are simply too few voices at present trying to analyze this declared mindset as a legitimate position. As far as can be determined, the only reason this is not analyzed more seriously is because the competing alternative – that Putin is untrustworthy and Moscow is the cause of all communication breakdowns – is simply too powerfully accepted as a de facto axiom.

In short, if the United States does not trust Russia, it is because of how Russia behaves on the global stage and because of its own history on said stage. If Russia does not trust the United States, that is simply Russian posturing and a case of political transference, wanting to blame its own self-made problems on someone else so that it can avoid any accountability or being held responsible for poor performance. The issue at hand is how this is simply accepted rather than investigated. And how few so-called Russian experts are at present willing to step forward and shine a light on this intellectual insincerity. There are voices that decry a picture being painted that combines inaccuracy with heightened rhetoric while purposely ignoring mitigating contexts and less negative observations. However, those voices are extremely rare and at the moment easily drowned out by the drumbeat of Russian derision. Until those voices get louder or strive to become more prominent public figures in Washington, it seems there is little hope for an improvement in relations between the United States and Russia based on actual events in the real world.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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