Now that it’s all over but the shouting, a few people need to be thinking about the future, as Trump’s long-delayed impeachment gets underway. In the US, this will be a difficult exercise, due to the riveting, minute by minute coverage of a process that will continue for months, leading into the 2020 presidential election. However, on a positive note, America’s soap opera is forcing Europeans to begin a process that that has been delayed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Decades after these earth-shattering events, Europe is weakened by the triple difficulties of immigration, right-wing populism and continued obedience to Washington. As French President Emanuel Macron takes over from Angela Merkel’s decades-long leadership, Europe is no longer a model for social-democracy, but a cacophony. Although France is ‘the US’s closest ally after Great Britain’, only the website of a Russian-American known as The Saker publicized Macron’s recent, stunning acknowledgement that the world is fundamentally changing. In a yearly speech to France’s Foreign Ambassadors that reflects an education system based upon the rigorous analysis of complex ideas, (incarnated in the ‘dissertation’ that even science majors must master) forty-one year-old Macron announced that the international order is being shaken to its roots “by the great upheaval taking place for the first time in history.”
“We are witnessing a geopolitical and strategic transformation, the end of Western hegemony over the world. Since the 18th century, the international order rested on that hegemony, mostly French in the 18th century, driven by the Enlightenment; then mostly British in the 19th century, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and, finally, mostly American in the 20th century thanks to two great conflicts and US economic and political domination.”
Macron attributes this foundational change to “mistakes by the West in dealing with certain crises”, especially American choices over several years. They did not start with this administration, but they do force us to revisit certain implications of the conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and to rethink our deep diplomatic and military strategy, as well as notions of solidarity that we thought were eternal.…
For the first time, a Western leader acknowledged “the emergence of new powers whose impact we long under-estimated. In the forefront is China, but clearly Russia’s has more successfully pursued its strategy in recent years. …India and other new economies are also becoming not only economic but political powers, considering themselves as true ‘civilizational states’, that revolutionize the economic and political order with more dynamism and inspiration than we have. India, Russia and China think about our planet logically, philosophically, with an imagination that we’ve partly lost.”
Better than any statistics, Macron’s words sum up the fact that Europe’s domination, which lasted from the age of conquest until the end of World War II, is over. Its desperate efforts to limit Muslim immigration are almost laughable given that Muslims sit alongside the Hindus, the Confucians and the Patriarchs.
Where Europe goes from here will depend on its ability to heed Macron’s analysis. This will not be easy, if only because seventy-five years of indoctrination that began with the introduction of coca-cola and jazz, culminating in alarming rates of violence against women in the ‘me-too’ era, do not point toward healthier families and a sharing of international responsibilities.
Americans are reminded several times a day that the Russian President cannot be trusted, that, as a former KGB officer he is the incarnation of evil (never mind that the KGB is the Russian equivalent of our FBI and CIA). Hidden from them are the events that Vladimir Putin organizes several times a year, bringing together diplomats and business people from across the world in multi-day informal settings. Recently, and exceptionally, a relaxed Vladimir Putin was shown on television joking about so-called Russian interference in the 2016 American election, but the venue at which an international public laughed and applauded was not named.
Ever since World War II, world leaders have gone to Washington to sort things out with the president of the most powerful country. And although the White House still dangles the honor of a White House visit when making demands of a foreign nation, especially a relatively weak one, increasingly, a self-initiated parade of heads of state takes place in Sochi, Vladimir Putin’s getaway on the Black Sea. (Sochi is less than 500 miles from Yalta, on the Crimean peninsula, where the division of Europe was sealed by President Roosevelt, Russia’s Joseph Stalin and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1945, creating the conditions for the Cold War.)
Recently, the Russian President has met there in turn with Turkish President Erdogan, who Donald Trump allowed to take a swathe of Syrian territory that had long been part of the Kurds’ fractured homeland, as well as with Kurdish leaders, whom the US abandoned after they fought ISIS for years. As for President, Bashar al-Assad, he speaks regularly to the Russian president, who, since 2011, has effectively prevented the US from taking over his country.
At 5’7” Vladimir Putin wears his power modestly, greeting interlocutors with a shy smile rather than the macho American hand-pump. (There is an amusing expression about people whose bluster is not born out by actions, originating in Texas: “All hat and no cattle”.) The Russian president likes to drive his own car, and never forgets to offer a bouquet to the wife of a peer (behavior that, if unavoidably appearing on US television, is never pointed out).
Some Americans probably think Putin’s demeanor is a ‘gimmick’, a way of presenting himself that will lower his interlocutor’s defenses. In reality, it aligns perfectly with Putin’s preference for diplomacy over war, his low-key approach to mediation contrasting with Yankee edicts. It is embodied in the multi-polar world flagship entity, the BRICS, as well as the previously mentioned talk shops that he and Chinese President Xi hold regularly around the world, unbeknownst to the American public, whose attention is lashed to the web of accusations and investigations as old as three years. (One of the standard justifications journalists use to justify their questions to lawmakers is the more often ignored ‘people’s right to know’…
Russian voters may not be ‘entitled’ to know every twist and turn of their country’s policies, however President Putin’s high approval ratings suggest that he has their confidence. Nor does he have to dangle invitations to Sochi to secure the cooperation of foreign leaders: Unlike Washington’s method of reward or punishment, they are eager to confide in him, knowing that he will do his best to bring opposing sides together, as he just demonstrated in the latest episode of Syria’s struggle to defend its sovereignty from Turkish and American intervention.
As Americans wonder what America’s two hundred year old democracy will look like after an increasingly complicated impeachment process, the French President, viewed as a younger, more dynamic De Gaulle, acknowledges those the old general looked down his patrician nose at, as the world’s new leaders.
Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist that lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years. Over the years she penned a number of books, including Russia’s Americans. Her essays can also be found at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.