Saturday, August 30, 2008

Who is Passing Unnoticed Now?

As I wrote yesterday, quoting the French anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu:

There is nothing worse than to pass unnoticed ….

This is as true of nations as it is of political candidates, and it may be that no nation understands this better than Russia in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Whatever we may say about Vladimir Putin, it would be fair to say that he was not a man to tolerate being passed unnoticed; and it may well be that his conviction in this matter is what has given him his strength in the game of Russian politics, whatever the rules may be at any time. Furthermore, if Bourdieu's principle is one of Putin's mottos, then his understanding of retribution for passing unnoticed can probably be captured by another more familiar motto:

What goes around, comes around.

Could it be that this motto is beginning to bear fruit for Russia, not just in Israel, where I last cited it, but in the West as a whole and, more specifically, the United States?

Consider the current state of play over Georgia as reported on the BBC NEWS Web site:

Russia has taken a series of diplomatic steps in an apparent effort to ease tensions with the West over this month's conflict in Georgia.

President Dmitry Medvedev told UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown Moscow wanted more monitors from Europe's security body in Georgia, the Kremlin said.

Separately, Russian and German foreign ministers agreed to seek to calm tensions over the crisis, Moscow said.

The issue is set to dominate the agenda of an EU meeting on Monday.

As of August 8 Russia no longer had to worry about passing unnoticed, and now it will be the center of attention at Monday's European Union meeting. Having received that attention, Russia can now exhibit that understanding of statecraft which I recently attributed to Putin. The BBC reported the following quoted material from the Medvedev-Brown conversation:

During Saturday's telephone conversation with Mr Brown, President Medvedev said Russia was "in favour of the deployment of additional OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] monitors in the security zone" in Georgia, the Kremlin statement said.

It said observers in the security zone would provide "impartial monitoring" of Tbilisi's actions.

However, there is more to this story than the prevailing of cooler heads in both Russia and the European Union. There is also, in a bizarre twist on Arthur Conan Doyle, the dog that would not stop barking in the night that everyone else finally decided to ignore: the United States. While our Administration has been invoking the same rhetoric of sanctions that always seems to stir up trouble in the Middle East, the European Union seems to have decided that, while the United States may continue to dominate any decisions made by NATO, it can only speak to "security and co-operation in Europe" when invited to do so; and it would appear that the current makeup of EU leadership is not particularly interested in extending this invitation, perhaps, as Gabor Steingart has suggested, because it would act at cross purposes to goals such as overall security.

During the Vietnam War, one of my favorite protest slogans was:

What if they declared a war, and nobody came?

This raises an analogous question for today's situation:

What if you were the undisputed superpower, and nobody noticed?

For the first time since the Second Word War, Europe, in all of its current collectivity, seems to have decided that it does not have to notice the United States for every decision it makes, even those concerned with security. My guess is that the White House either does not or will not consider this proposition, but there is every reason to believe that Putin is well aware of it. Someone on our President's team ought to get to work figuring out how "What goes around comes around" translates into Russian!

No comments: