Moscow’s agreement with Nicaragua to deploy Russian soldiers there must disturb Washington. What happened to the Monroe Doctrine, which one of Donald Trump’s secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson, said “was alive and kicking today”. Will Joe Biden’s man repudiate this?
Cardinal Ovando Bravo, if he’s still around, must be in feverish anxiety. When I visited Managua in the 1990s, with Daniel Ortega just about to be crowned President, the cardinal virtually led me by the hand to Mother Mary’s statue in Managua so I could see the miracle with my own eyes: Mary weeping copious tears as Communist rule was imminent. It reminds me of another “miracle” that gripped India in 1995: Ganesh statues slurping vast quantities of milk.
The Nicaragua agreement has been given vast amplitude: seven Latin American countries “to enter the country and participate”, says Fox News. There was more for Washington to worry. This time the salvo came from Cardinal Bravo’s supreme boss. Pope Francis rubbished the diligently orchestrated Western propaganda that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was “unprovoked”?
In an interview to a Jesuit magazine, the Pope quotes a “wise head of state” who predicted much before the invasion that “they are barking at the gates of Russia; the situation could lead to war”.
There’s no great difference between what the statesman said and what the Pope said some weeks ago: that Nato may have “facilitated” the Kremlin’s invasion by “barking” at the Russian door.
That Russia was consistently “provoked” has been clear as daylight since 1998 when the US Senate voted in favour of Nato expansion. The wisest historian on Russia, who invented the policy of “containing” the Soviet Union, George Kennan, said loud and clear: “There will be repercussions.”
At Nato’s 2008 Bucharest summit, where ironically Mr Putin was also invited, Georgia and Ukraine’s possible entry into Nato was announced. It turned out to be a dramatic summit as President George W. Bush was also present, lobbying hard for Georgia and Ukraine to be ushered into Nato. “This will be like a knife on my throat,” said Mr Putin. What was being suggested, Mr Putin said, was an existential threat to Russia. A deep, dark red line was drawn.
Year 2008 was memorable for two events: the Russia-Georgia war, which Russia won, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, with a $619 billion record debt which hit the US where it hurts most. The expression “US decline” gained currency from then. It was a dramatic turn of fortune: the 1990-91 Soviet collapse produced the “sole superpower” moment. Whoever imagined that the contradictions of capitalism would catch up with the world’s most powerful economy?
In the West’s build-up to the Ukraine expedition, I pointed out flaws in the strategy as three of the US’s earlier expeditions, which I had watched from close, failed. After 20 years of occupation, the US left Afghanistan in disorder and unspeakable hunger. On April 3, 2002, it occupied Iraq for a decade, with gains hard to see unless you see things from the Israeli perspective.
Then the US brought Syria into its focus with an altered strategy. It would not occupy this time but allow Gulf countries scared of Iran to break the Shia axis and place the knife on Iran’s throat.
When US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, with an imperious wave of the hand, demanded that “Assad, get out of the way”, I was moved to question her cocksure demeanour indicating regime change. Within days, Assad would fall. The gist of my logic was this: when you failed in Afghanistan and Iraq with extended spells of occupation, where do you derive your certitude from that Assad would fall by what looked to me like cross-border terrorism. I can never forget the image of Gen. Lloyd Austin, much before he became defence secretary, among whose various tasks was to train “good militants” to plague Assad. A budget of $500 million was set aside. The “good” militants learnt all the drills and, one morning, collected all the weapons they had been trained to handle and walked away, presumably to join the “bad” terrorists. The general had to face the Senate Armed Services Committee. “How many of the soldiers you trained are still in battle?” they asked, to which the general replied sadly: “Four or five”.
If Assad could not fall with an external push, how did the US dream up a proxy war on Ukraine’s turf that would defeat Vladimir Putin with his arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons. The US caused the destruction of Ukraine with its weapons as it wished to get at Mr Putin’s jugular. But why the wish to “weaken Russia”, as Gen. Lloyd Austin put it, or “debase Putin”? In an earlier instance too, it had played this kind of billiards: the target was Iran but Syria, leading the subsidiary Shia arc, stood in the way.
In Ukraine’s case, the US is having kittens as China, the eventual target, has held Russia’s hand and announced a “friendship with no limits”. The US hope is that a “debased” Russia will be much less attractive to China. It’s like throwing acid at a woman’s face so that the groom rejects her. The world is watching the outcome with interest as the total devastation of Ukraine is not in anyone’s interest. But America’s own allies are now undermining its war effort. The unofficial line for all European officials is “to accelerate trade with Russia in foodgrain, fertilisers, oil and gas”. The US media too has fallen silent. Has it seen the writing on the wall?