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On the Precipice

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-09-27 21:11:58. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Ronald Reagan's signature

September 27, 2009

I was fortunate recently to receive a gift from a close friend of a marvelous work of biographical documentary by Lou Cannon, an authority on the life and work of Ronald Reagan. The illustrated portfolio of Reagan’s contributions to America is truly an inspiring piece of literature, as well as a powerful historical reference of his accomplishments. The accompanying audio CD containing excerpts of his speeches, including the famous “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Berlin speech of June 12, 1987, is a stimulating flashback to the times when American strength and influence was able to change the world in dramatic ways.

Moving page by page through this exceptional work one finds it difficult to not return in one’s mind to the culminating years of the 20th century and remind oneself of the edge of the precipice on which the world stood in those days. The escalating arms race between the USSR and the United States was truly the one event in world history which, had it not been ultimately conquered, might have lead to our annihilation; the end of our civilization and as a human race.

Our options were limited but remarkably clear. Succumbing to the influence of Soviet domination would have changed, and indeed destroyed our way of life as a free society. This was not an acceptable option. Movements to appease the Soviet aggressor were growing, emanating both from within the US and many countries with liberal-leaning democracies. Cries of “better dead than read,” the rallying cry of anti-communist forces within the US were being elsewhere reversed, and “better red than dead” was increasingly heard around the world. It seemed as if the US was the last and only obstacle to the Soviet’s imposition of their social and economic order on the world. Yet still many around the world naively believed that, if only left alone and not challenged, the Soviet Union would necessarily do the same and retreat to its ancient borders and withhold further communist encroachment into their countries.

Reagan, however, saw this as it truly was – a war of ideas where in the end there had to be a victor and there had to be a defeated. He stated it very clearly – “Peace is so easy to achieve. I can give it to you in one second. All you have to do is surrender.”

The war had to be won. The consequences of anything other than victory were unthinkable. Astute in recognizing the perfectly aligned circumstances of the support of Pope John Paul II, the Solidarity uprising in Poland, and an opening presented by a slightly more realistic than his predecessors General Secretary Gorbachev, Reagan fearlessly confronted the Soviet regime and at the perfect moment dealt the final blow. His words of defiance against the Soviet empire, like a match, lit the fire of counter revolution throughout Eastern Europe, and the Soviet regime soon collapsed of its own weight and inability to defend its flawed ideals.

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, most of the countries previously under its communist vice have since become prosperous market societies, and the American principles of freedom and liberty spread widely across these newly emerging free market democracies. Reagan left behind a legacy of a world much safer and economically viable. Bells of liberty and freedom had been made to ring louder and clearer than ever before. With his legacy we were also reminded of the power of liberty over tyranny and conviction over appeasement.

And here we are, no more than 20 years later faced with circumstances ominously similar to those during Reagan’s presidency. Though there may no longer be a Soviet Union, yet today’s Russia is increasingly becoming emboldened to act with the same dictatorial patterns as the Bolsheviks of half a century years ago. Socialism (or in reality a contorted and deformed version thereof) has been adopted by a number of dictatorial regimes like Venezuela’s Chavez and is spreading to other countries not far from our doorstep (Honduras). Islamic terrorism continues to be an unresolved threat and in fact may be strengthening its roots across the world.

But this time the United States lacks the leadership and conviction it did during the Reagan presidency. Indeed, our ideological infrastructure has been so severely infected with socialist principles and ideology that we cannot even be certain whether we are opposed to the progressive encroachment of hard core collectivism and government control into our way of life. Voices of mainstream political figures uttering words such as “we must accept the increased role of government in our lives” and “it takes a village to raise a child” all point to our increasing acceptance of government as a paternal figure in our lives. This is in complete conflict with our founding principles. It repaints our country with an ideology that is foreign to the core of our beliefs and in many ways invalidates the experiment that had created our country in the first place.

It is important to understand the chain of events that the world socialist envisions. It begins at an individual and national level, where the abandonment of personal liberties leads to the socialization of the society within the respective nation. Once enough individual societies have succumbed to the socialist ideology, this in turn becomes the seed toward globalized socialism, where individual nations forgo their national individuality and interests for the benefit of the global order.

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While troubling within the context of our nation, the ramifications on the future of our world are extremely profound.  If America is absorbed into the “community” defined by the world-wide socialist agenda, its leadership role will cease, leaving the world to be led by a dysfunctional conglomerate of nations. As evidenced by the total ineffectiveness of the United Nations, the resulting inaction at a global level can be nothing less than terrifying.

Imagine a world without leadership, with the United States playing an equal partner role with all other countries of the world. A true “to each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities.” Equal sharing of all resources. No conflict. No wars. No boundaries.

Utopia, you say? I say absolutely. Then I add. No food. No progress. No innovation. No invention. No individual – only the collective.

To create a world society which completely uproots and ignores the basics of the human behavioral DNA is excellent material for science fiction, but in the real world it is folly. By natural law man strives to become more than what he is. He does so because he anticipates this will improves his life. When he does, by so doing, he contributes to the progress of society.

Man is flawed (thank our Creator for that) and desires more than what he needs. And greed is as much a part of his character as is his need to breathe. Man is also benevolent, and once his needs are generally met, he gladly shares of his goods, first with family, then with others of his choosing.

You can no more remove these traits from man than you can make him refuse food or water. To remove them is to devoid him of the desire to create and improve.

The United States is at the crossroads of determining the shape of its future. While the socialist agenda has been active here for the better part of the 20th century (Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal), at no time has the pace of radical change been so rapid as during the first 9 months of Barack Obama’s presidency. As if realizing that inconvenient truths must sooner or later catch up with his agenda, the breakneck speed of socialist reforms undertaken by him are intended to reach as far as possible before the electorate realizes the consequences of his  actions.

With each such reform the relevance of the individual fades further and the objective of the statist is closer to being realized.

While no credible single leader has emerged in opposition to this agenda, the electorate is clearly catching on and beginning to establish beachheads in pushing back on many of the reforms. But the voice of a leader in the tradition of Ronald Reagan is yet to be heard.  When he/she emerges, the battle will extend to winning back the statist’s gains and aiming our attention on the world stage, where America’s leadership desperately needs to be reestablished.

The United States has earned the right to be the dominant nation. It has done so by succeeding where others have failed, by creating a society and system of government which recognizes and aligns with man’s desire for freedom and liberty. By so doing it has created great prosperity and a standard of living for its citizens unmatched throughout the world. It has earned the right to lead because of its benevolence toward less prosperous nations, having provided more positive influence and material support for them than any other country and, in fact, more than all other nations under the United Nations banner.

Now our future is far from clear, our destiny far from being secure. The strength and effect of the mounting opposition to Barack Obama’s agenda will determine how far our nation swings in the direction of collectivism and how reversible (if at all) these effects will be. What is at stake is nothing less than the heart of our national identity, the principles of our 200+ year old democracy and the success of the experiment that is the United States of America.

Will history show the era of Ronald Reagan to be just a temporary relapse in the statist’s march toward the eventual imposition of socialist order upon the world? Or will it serve as a lasting testament of the power of conviction and the strength of our ideals that we once again now need to exhibit in defense of our liberty, freedom and national identity?

The answer may very well determine the course of our next 200 years as either Americans or as citizens of the world.

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Ukraine’s Election and the Russian Resurgence

Posted on 30 January 2010 by Editor

Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

By Peter Zeihan
Stratfor.com
January 26, 2010

Ukrainians go to the polls Feb. 7 to choose their next president. The last time they did this, in November 2004, the result was the prolonged international incident that became known as the Orange Revolution. That event saw Ukraine cleaved off from the Russian sphere of influence, triggering a chain of events that rekindled the Russian-Western Cold War. Next week’s runoff election seals the Orange Revolution’s reversal. Russia owns the first candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, outright and has a workable agreement with the other, Yulia Timoshenko. The next few months will therefore see the de facto folding of Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence; discussion in Ukraine now consists of debate over the speed and depth of that reintegration.

The Centrality of Ukraine

Russia has been working to arrest its slide for several years. Next week’s election in Ukraine marks not so much the end of the post-Cold War period of Russian retreat as the beginning of a new era of Russian aggressiveness. To understand why, one must first absorb the Russian view of Ukraine.

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The Russian Resurgence

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, most of the former Soviet republics and satellites found themselves cast adrift, not part of the Russian orbit and not really part of any other grouping. Moscow still held links to all of them, but it exercised few of its levers of control over them during Russia’s internal meltdown during the 1990s. During that period, a number of these states — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the former Czechoslovakia to be exact — managed to spin themselves out of the Russian orbit and attach themselves to the European Union and NATO. Others — Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine — attempted to follow the path Westward, but have not succeeded at this point. Of these six, Ukraine is by far the most critical. It is not simply the most populous of Russia’s former possessions or the birthplace of the Russian ethnicity, it is the most important province of the former Russian Empire and holds the key to the future of Eurasia.

First, the incidental reasons. Ukraine is the Russian Empire’s breadbasket. It is also the location of nearly all of Russia’s infrastructure links not only to Europe, but also to the Caucasus, making it critical for both trade and internal coherence; it is central to the existence of a state as multiethnic and chronically poor as Russia. The Ukrainian port of Sevastopol is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and Ukrainian ports are the only well-developed warm-water ports Russia has ever had. Belarus’ only waterborne exports traverse the Dnieper River, which empties into the Black Sea via Ukraine. Therefore, as goes Ukraine, so goes Belarus. Not only is Ukraine home to some 15 million ethnic Russians — the largest concentration of Russians outside Russia proper — they reside in a zone geographically identical and contiguous to Russia itself. That zone is also the Ukrainian agricultural and industrial heartland, which again is integrated tightly into the Russian core.

These are all important factors for Moscow, but ultimately they pale before the only rationale that really matters: Ukraine is the only former Russian imperial territory that is both useful and has a natural barrier protecting it. Belarus is on the Northern European Plain, aka the invasion highway of Europe. The Baltics are all easily accessible by sea. The Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are on the wrong side of the Caucasus Mountains (and Russia’s northern Caucasus republics — remember Chechnya? — aren’t exactly the cream of the crop of Russian possessions). It is true that Central Asia is anchored in mountains to the south, but the region is so large and boasts so few Slavs that it cannot be controlled reliably or cheaply. And Siberia is too huge to be useful.

Without Ukraine, Russia is a desperately defensive power, lacking any natural defenses aside from sheer distance. Moscow and Volgograd, two of Russia’s critically strategic cities, are within 300 miles of Ukraine’s eastern border. Russia lacks any natural internal transport options — its rivers neither interconnect nor flow anywhere useful, and are frozen much of the year — so it must preposition defensive forces everywhere, a burden that has been beyond Russia’s capacity to sustain even in the best of times. The (quite realistic) Russian fear is that without Ukraine, the Europeans will pressure Russia along its entire western periphery, the Islamic world will pressure Russia along its entire southern periphery, the Chinese will pressure Russia along its southeastern periphery, and the Americans will pressure Russia wherever opportunity presents itself.

Ukraine by contrast has the Carpathians to its west, a handy little barrier that has deflected invaders of all stripes for millennia. These mountains defend Ukraine against tanks coming from the west as effectively as they protected the Balkans against Mongols attacking from the east. Having the Carpathians as a western border reduces Russia’s massive defensive burden. Most important, if Russia can redirect the resources it would have used for defensive purposes on the Ukrainian frontier — whether those resources be economic, intelligence, industrial, diplomatic or military — then Russia retains at least a modicum of offensive capability. And that modicum of offensive ability is more than enough to overmatch any of Russia’s neighbors (with the exception of China).

When Retreat Ends, the Neighbors Get Nervous

This view of Ukraine is not alien to countries in Russia’s neighborhood. They fully understand the difference between a Russia with Ukraine and a Russia without Ukraine, and understand that so long as Ukraine remains independent they have a great deal of maneuvering room. Now that all that remains is the result of an election with no strategic choice at stake, the former Soviet states and satellites realize that their world has just changed.

Georgia traditionally has been the most resistant to Russian influence regardless of its leadership, so defiant that Moscow felt it necessary to trounce Georgia in a brief war in August 2008. Georgia’s poor strategic position is nothing new, but a Russia that can redirect efforts from Ukraine is one that can crush Georgia as an afterthought. That is turning the normally rambunctious Georgians pensive, and nudging them toward pragmatism. An opposition group, the Conservative Party, is launching a movement to moderate policy toward Russia, which among other things would mean abandoning Georgia’s bid for NATO membership and re-establishing formal political ties with Moscow.

A recent Lithuanian power struggle has resulted in the forced resignation of Foreign Minister Minister Vygaudas Usackas. The main public point of contention was the foreign minister’s previous participation in facilitating U.S. renditions. Vygaudas, like most in the Lithuanian leadership, saw such participation as critical to maintaining the tiny country’s alliance with the United States. President Dalia Grybauskaite, however, saw the writing on the wall in Ukraine, and feels the need to foster a more conciliatory view of Russia. Part of that meant offering up a sacrificial lamb in the form of the foreign minister.

Poland is in a unique position. It knows that should the Russians turn seriously aggressive, its position on the Northern European Plain makes it the focal point of Russian attention. Its location and vulnerability makes Warsaw very sensitive to Russian moves, so it has been watching Ukraine with alarm for several months.

As a result, the Poles have come up with some (admittedly small) olive branches, including an offer for Putin to visit Gdansk last September in an attempt to foster warmer (read: slightly less overtly hostile) relations. Putin not only seized upon the offer, but issued a public letter denouncing the World War II-era Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty, long considered by Poles as the most outrageous Russian offense to Poland. Warsaw has since replied with invitations for future visits. As with Georgia, Poland will never be pro-Russian — Poland is not only a NATO member but also hopes to host an American Patriot battery and participate in Washington’s developing ballistic missile defense program. But if Warsaw cannot hold Washington’s attention — and it has pulled out all the stops in trying to — it fears the writing might already be on the wall, and it must plan accordingly.

Azerbaijan has always attempted to walk a fine line between Russia and the West, knowing that any serious bid for membership in something like the European Union or NATO was contingent upon Georgia’s first succeeding in joining up. Baku would prefer a more independent arrangement, but it knows that it is too far from Russia’s western frontier to achieve such unless the stars are somewhat aligned. As Georgia’s plans have met with what can best be described as abject failure, and with Ukraine now appearing headed toward Russian suzerainty, Azerbaijan has in essence resigned itself to the inevitable. Baku is well into negotiations that would redirect much of its natural gas output north to Russia rather than west to Turkey and Europe. And Azerbaijan simply has little else to bargain with.

Other states that have long been closer to Russia, but have attempted to balance Russia against other powers in hopes of preserving some measure of sovereignty, are giving up. Of the remaining former Soviet republics Belarus has the most educated workforce and even a functioning information technology industry, while Kazakhstan has a booming energy industry; both are reasonable candidates for integration into Western systems. But both have this month agreed instead to throw their lots in with Russia. The specific method is an economic agreement that is more akin to shackles than a customs union. The deal effectively will gut both countries’ industries in favor of Russian producers. Moscow hopes the union in time will form the foundation of a true successor to the Soviet Union.

Other places continue to show resistance. The new Moldovan prime minister, Vlad Filat, is speaking with the Americans about energy security and is even flirting with the Romanians about reunification. The Latvians are as defiant as ever. The Estonians, too, are holding fast, although they are quietly polling regional powers to at least assess where the next Russian hammer might fall. But for every state that decides it had best accede to Russia’s wishes, Russia has that much more bandwidth to dedicate to the poorly positioned holdouts.

Russia also has the opportunity. The United States is bogged down in its economic and health care debates, two wars and the Iran question — all of which mean Washington’s attention is occupied well away from the former Soviet sphere. With the United States distracted, Russia has a freer hand in re-establishing control over states that would like to be under the American security umbrella.

There is one final factor that is pushing Russia to resurge: It feels the pressure of time. The post-Cold War collapse may well have mortally wounded the Russian nation. The collapse in Russian births has halved the size of the 0-20 age group in comparison to their predecessors born in the 1970s and 1980s. Consequently, Russian demographics are among the worst in the world.

Even if Russia manages an economic renaissance, in a decade its population will have aged and shrunk to the point that the Russians will find holding together Russia proper a huge challenge. Moscow’s plan, therefore, is simple: entrench its influence while it is in a position of relative strength in preparation for when it must trade that influence for additional time. Ultimately, Russia is indeed going into that good night. But not gently. And not today.

This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

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