New Slaves, Global Edition: Russia, Iran and the Segregation of the World Economy
Carter Page describes how the lessons learned from the U.S. civil rights movement might provide a new vision for the foreign policy intelligentsia.
1.2 - A person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something.
In October 2014, rapper Kanye West visited with President Barack Obama in the White House. Although the follow-up from the meeting did not lead to the outcome either participant had hoped for in domestic politics given the rival Republican Party’s victory in the November 2014 midterm elections, the artist’s creative work offers valuable ideas that could fundamentally improve the direction of U.S. foreign policy and world affairs.
Kanye West released a song in 2013 entitled “New Slaves”. The lyrics start with a description of the 1950’s in America: “My momma was raised in the era when, clean water was only served to the fairer skin.” After explaining various racial biases that West has experienced throughout his own life, the song refers to his direct response: “I'm about to wild the f*** out, I'm going Bobby Boucher.” It is a reference to the 1998 movie “The Waterboy” in which Adam Sandler’s character channels his frustration from injustices in life into extraordinary performance on the football field.
Going Bobby Boucher
Closely analogous situations and responses may be found in today’s international arena. But in the current drama of world affairs, it is not just one fictional student like Boucher that has begun to take action against the forces of perceived injustice and harassment. Instead, Russia, Iran, China and a range of emerging powers have suffered from the same kind of condescending mistreatment that football team bullies once delivered to Boucher and have begun to respond in kind.
In a New York magazine segment on the Obama legacy, Claremont McKenna College Professor Charles Kesler looked back on an article that conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. wrote for Look magazine entitled “Why We Need a Black President in 1980.” As Kesler described it, “A black president, WFB argued, would vindicate American idealism, providing blacks the ‘reassurance’ that their equality included access to the highest office in the land and, at the same time, providing ‘a considerable tonic for the white soul’ by dispelling charges of hypocrisy.”
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, a few generations of Russians were empowered with a far more modest ambition: the desire to become an active part of the global free market system. Rather than an aspiration to the highest office in any land, these goals represented a basic human right. Both the U.S. and E.U. to a certain extent initially helped encourage personal economic advancement in these economies, but paradoxically it has been the more recent resuscitation of old security archetypes by the Western powers that have created a new economic disaster in both Ukraine and Russia.
The irony of the Obama Administration is that while the U.S. head of state has broken down discriminatory barriers as the first black President, establishment figures from the Bush Administration who still remain in office have contributed to the unfair series of events in Ukraine, Russia and other sovereign states. In particular, former Dick Cheney aide and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland helped lead the charge with misguided and provocative actions. Meanwhile, other veteran establishment figures like Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry acted as relatively detached supervisors of these early shenanigans.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has stated, “I'd grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan; as an adult I was starting to wonder if I'd been afraid of the wrong white people all along - where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes, but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony.” From U.S. policies toward Russia to Iran to China, sanctimonious expressions of moral superiority stand at the root of many problems seen worldwide today.
World Order, Wilding Out
Susan Rice recently gave a speech at Brookings which introduced the latest National Security Strategy of the U.S. One of the most accurate and insightful statements from Rice’s speech came when she said, “Without us, Russia would be suffering no cost for its actions in Ukraine.” It is indeed true that the revolution precipitated in Kiev by Victoria Nuland helped unleash these dramatic costs for Russia, Ukraine and damaged the reputation of the U.S.
Another point by Rice was equally true: “While the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or the Cold War.” According to one estimate by the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars, the first Cold War which extended from the Truman Administration until the early 1990s led to a death toll of approximately 389. By comparison, the existential nature of the ongoing war in Ukraine precipitated by U.S. meddling in the Maidan revolution has already led to over ten times as many deaths.
Numerous quotes from the February 2015 National Security Strategy closely parallel an 1850 publication that offered guidance to slaveholders on how to produce the "ideal slave":
- Maintain strict discipline and unconditional submission. – “We will continue to impose significant costs on Russia through sanctions.”
- Create a sense of personal inferiority, so that slaves ‘know their place.’ – “America’s growing economic strength is the foundation of our national security and a critical source of our influence abroad... We are now the world leader in oil and gas production. We continue to set the pace for science, technology, and innovation in the global economy.”
- Instill fear. - “We will deter Russian aggression, remain alert to its strategic capabilities, and help our allies and partners resist Russian coercion over the long term, if necessary.”
- Teach servants to take interest in their master's enterprise. – “At the same time, we will keep the door open to greater collaboration with Russia in areas of common interests, should it choose a different path.”
- Deprive access to education and recreation, to ensure that slaves remain uneducated, helpless and dependent. – “Targeted economic sanctions will remain an effective tool for imposing costs on irresponsible actors.”
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “You know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life's July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.”
Mr. West was correct to point out in his 2013 song that when people are humiliated and trampled, there eventually comes a time when they will wild out. And while Dr. Rice was also correct to observe that “patience” can sometimes be a virtue, Dr. King’s thoughts remain as spot-on today as they were at the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Drawing upon the lessons from the civil rights movement, now applying the United States’ earlier course correction toward greater respect and justice in the foreign policy arena would help avoid a persistent long slog along the current lethal path.
A Wall Street Journal editorial has suggested: "For the Pentagon, Mr. Obama’s budget of $612 billion represents a 4.5% increase over 2015. This boost is overdue in a world of proliferating national-security threats from the Islamic State to Vladimir Putin to China." But as often seen in the original Cold War, returning to the piercing chill of an alpine November through continued militarist instigation would prove far more costly and completely unnecessary for all parties.
Eager to deploy such new funds, Victoria Nuland has continued to advocate exactly this kind of increasingly frigid trajectory in her own recent Brookings speech: “All must contribute to NATO's new spearhead force which will allow us to speed forces to trouble spots, and we must install command and control centers in all six front-line state as soon as possible.” Some may find it difficult to keep up-to-date with the latest steps toward antagonizing Russia and remain unaware that such an extensive front-line has already been designed, just as general naïveté remains about Nuland’s role in fomenting the Maidan revolution. But the six countries in the Assistant Secretary of State’s latest scheme include: “The alliance’s easternmost member states - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, all of whom either border Russia or share the Black Sea with annexed Crimea.”
The concurrence of targeted discrimination and interventionist policies is by no means a new phenomenon. Despite other accomplishments by U.S. President Harry Truman, his counterproductive Truman Doctrine which helped initiate and institutionalize the Cold War echoed the same condescending tone in an infamous letter he once wrote to his wife, "I think one man is as good as another so long as he's honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman."
In his 2003 article “We Can Learn a Lot from Truman the Bigot” which touches on these themes, Peter Kuznick suggests, “We should question whether his was the kind of presidential vision our own troubled times demand. And we should consider the dangers of placing unlimited power in the hands of extremely limited political leaders.” Obama himself is an individual with tremendous talents. But various legacy staff members and ill-advised advisors in the U.S. foreign policy apparatus have directly reflected the dangers of placing vast power in the hands of the extremely limited political leaders that his Administration has appointed.
In the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to create separate public schools for black and white students. In February of that same year, the Soviet Union completed an internal transfer of the Crimean peninsula from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian SSR. As Khruschev’s granddaughter has said, "It was somewhat symbolic, somewhat trying to reshuffle the centralized system and also, full disclosure, Nikita Khrushchev was very fond of Ukraine. So I think to some degree it was also a personal gesture toward his favorite republic. He was ethnically Russian, but he really felt great affinity with Ukraine." Despite the long-standing close cultural ties between Russia and Crimea, the administrative reshuffle of 1954 was based on the false assumption that no Western official could ever be foolish enough to lead a revolution in Ukraine that promotes pro-U.S. radicals to power in Kiev. Even more unthinkable is that such hand-selected rebels would be hostile to Russia’s interests. In the wake of such careless decisions, the March 2014 democratic referendum which followed in Crimea thus led to a predictable result.
Pivot to Asia II: The Non-militaristic Chapter
Given the biased philosophies and draconian tactics of both the U.S. and the E.U., Russia has shifted its attention eastward. Recent efforts by Gazprom, the world’s largest publicly-traded energy company, have refocused on the strong prospects in Asian markets. This economics-focused initiative stands in stark contrast to the military-focus of the U.S. pivot to Asia. Whereas China also sees evidence that the increased presence of military overseers in its backyard might stand as part of a new U.S. containment policy, the move reflects part of the mutual concern that Beijing shares with Moscow.
Carter W. Page is Founder and Managing Partner of Global Energy Capital LLC, an Adjunct Associate Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Energy Fellow at the Center for National Policy in Washington.