Skip to main content

Puzzling: US shunning diplomacy when it is arguably more necessary than ever

By James W Carden 

The principal American and Russian diplomats, Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, have spoken precisely once since Russia launched its illegal invasion of Ukraine in February.
In a phone call on July 29, the two diplomats discussed issues around a possible prisoner exchange involving two Americans being held in Russian custody, former US Marine Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner. Nothing came of the call.
Writing from the G20 meeting in early July, the Associated Press diplomatic correspondent Matt Lee noted in a dispatch that Lavrov told reporters there that “…it was not us who abandoned all contacts…it was the United States. That’s all I can say. And we are not running after anybody suggesting meetings. If they don’t want to talk, it’s their choice.”
The shunning of diplomacy by Blinken at a time when it is arguably more necessary than ever is puzzling given that one of the rare foreign policy successes of the Obama-Biden administration, the Iran Nuclear Accord, was owed to countless hours of backchannel diplomacy. In this case it might be hoped that Blinken is not taking meetings with his Russian counterpart because another, far more substantive and experienced statesman, William Burns, is conducting talks and they are simply being kept from public view. Burns, after all, is the administration’s most experienced Russia hand and is no stranger to playing the role of backchannel envoy.
Whatever the case, Biden’s national security team might familiarize themselves with the diplomatic strategy as carried out by US President Ronald Reagan and his secretary of state George Shultz at what historians often point to as among the two most dangerous periods (the first being the Cuban Missile Crisis) of the Cold War.
“The basis of a free and principled foreign policy,” said former California governor Ronald Reagan in a speech accepting the 1980 Republican nomination, “is one that takes the world as it is, and seeks to change it by leadership and example; not by harangue, harassment or wishful thinking.”
But the very early years of his administration were indeed marked more by harangue (“Evil Empire”) than by diplomacy. A New York Times profile of the Soviet Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, noted that he could not “recall a period more tense than the present….On his visits back home, he finds his relatives asking him, for the first time, if there is going to be war with the United States.”
The nuclear scare resulting from NATO’s Able Archer exercise of 1983 served as a wake up call to the president – as did the ABC television movie The Day After, which is said to have made a deep impression on the president.
The departure, in July 1982, of secretary of state Al Haig and the arrival of former Nixon labor and treasury secretary George Shultz as Haig’s replacement, set the stage for a new approach to the Soviets.
In a memo to the president, Shultz called for “intensified dialogue with Moscow.” But Shultz had his work cut out for him. The team Reagan had assembled around him was replete with hardline anti-Soviet hawks, some of which, prominently Harvard University scholar Richard Pipes (born 1923, Cieszyn, Poland), who served on the NSC, were part of a large and influential (though perhaps not as influential as they are in today’s Washington) “Captive Nations” diaspora community which carried with it the preconceptions, prejudices and hatreds of the old country. These have, inevitably, colored the policy recommendations offered by members of that community – then and now.
Pipes and his deputy, John Lenczowski, were the team behind the policies laid out in National Security Decision Directive 75, which was more or less an extension of the hardline approach toward the Soviets carried out by president Jimmy Carters’ national security adviser Zbigniew BrzeziƄski (born 1928, Warsaw, Poland).
NSDD 75 said US-Soviet policy should be predicated on the understanding that “Soviet aggressiveness has deep roots in the internal system and that relations with the USSR should therefore take into account whether or not they help to strengthen this system and its capacity to engage in aggression.”
Plus ca change. The very same arguments made then are being recycled today – but under the pretext that the US and the West must wage a battle in what is said to be a fight between “Democracies vs. Autocracies.” Such reasoning makes little sense, but nevertheless has become an article of faith among both members of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment and their progressive critics.
It is trite but nonetheless true that personnel is policy, and the Reagan administration was no exception. As the scholar James Graham Wilson noted in his superb history of the Reagan-Gorbachev years, The Triumph of Improvisation, “Absent new individuals in positions of power, stagnation shaped the international environment in the early 1980s and old thinking determined the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union.”
But once the personnel began to change, so too did the policy. Shultz, working with Reagan’s top NSC Soviet expert, Jack Matlock, successfully pushed back against the neoconservative agenda. As Wilson writes, “Unlike the hardliners William Casey, William Clark, Richard Pipes, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Caspar Weinberger, Shultz and Matlock believed that the Soviet Union had the capacity to reform.”
Shultz orchestrated a meeting between Reagan and Dobrynin at the White House in February 1983, during which the president told the Soviet ambassador that he wanted Shultz to be his direct channel to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov. And throughout 1983 and into 1984, a new policy – crafted by Shultz, Matlock and national security advisor Robert McFarlane – of engagement emerged in the form of a four-part framework consisting of bilateral relations, regional matters, arms control, and human rights.
The similarities between the early Biden years and the very early Reagan years are therefore hard to miss. Under President Biden, Russia hardliners dominate every high national security office but one (Burns, CIA). And it is an open secret that the Biden team is taking their cues from the hardest of hardline members of the Captive Nations lobby which has a virtually, yes, Soviet-style stranglehold on what is and what is not allowed to be said with regard to US policy toward Russia and Ukraine.
Reagan, like Nixon before him, wisely turned aside the lobby’s counsel in pursuit of diplomacy. Will Biden? One need only look at the results of his administration’s policies to intuit that perhaps a change is needed. In short, Biden needs a Shultz.
In about three months time, the president could use the midterm elections as an opportune moment to put an end to the Blinken-era at Foggy Bottom – and appoint a secretary of state with the experience and gravitas necessary to meet the current moment.
And it’s not as though the president doesn’t have plenty of options. William Burns, former California governor Jerry Brown, former secretary of state John Kerry (currently serving as the administration’s climate envoy), former deputy secretary of state Thomas Shannon, and former national security adviser Tom Donilon should be on any short list of contenders to replace the current secretary of state and usher in a new era of diplomacy between Russia and the West.
---
This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord. James W. Carden is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Comments

TRENDING

Vishwanath has been unfairly excluded from global list of 100 best cricketers

By Harsh Thakor  Gundappa Vishwanath scaled zones in batting artistry or wizardry unparalleled amongst Indian batsmen. The best of his batting was a manifestation of the divine. He was also the epitome of cricketing sportsmanship. Sadly 40 years ago he unceremoniously bid farewell to the International cricket world, after the concluding test at Karachi in 1982-83., in January end. Very hard to visualise a character like Vishwanath being reborn today His memories are embedded in cricket lovers today when sportsmanship and grace have virtually been relegated to oblivion with the game of cricket turned into a commercial commodity. Today agro and unsporting behaviour is a routine feature Vishy shimmered cricket’s spirituality. His behaviour on the cricket field was grace personified, No one in his age defined cricket more as a gentleman’s game, than Vishy. Vishwanath could execute strokes that were surreal with his steel wrists. His strokeplay resembled the touches of a painter’s brush,

Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Reproductive, conjugal rights of women in India amidst debate of uniform civil code

By IMPRI Team  A Three-Day Immersive Online Legal Awareness and Certificate Training Course on “Reproductive and Conjugal Rights of Women in India” is an initiative of the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, and ran for three consecutive days starting from December 22, 2022 to December 24, 2022. The online paid certification was aimed to provide attendees with an enriching experience on the gender discourse with a special focus on women’s rights and the much-discussed reproductive rights in India.

Covid jabs: Pretexts cited to justify young, healthy succumbing to heart attacks

By Jay Ihsan   Truth is stranger than fiction – when dedicated doctors raised the red flag against the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, they were persecuted and their concerns barred from being heard. These honest doctors unequivocally made it known the Moderna Pfizer vaccines injure the heart and human body. One of them, Dr Peter McCullough, an American cardiologist, has repeatedly issued the clarion call to people to reject these harmful vaccines. An equally alarmed World Council for Health said the harmful Covid-19 vaccines should be removed from the market and the global inoculation must be stopped. “In Japan the vaccines were not mandated or made compulsory. The vaccines are not safe or effective enough to mandate them. The day the vaccines go away will be a day of celebration,” Dr Mccullough had lamented during an interview with India’s media outfit, Qvive several months ago. Meanwhile, the number of people jabbed with the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines died soon after or have developed lifelong

Gender gap 17%, SC and ST levels of education between 7% to 14% below upper classes

By IMPRI Team  The treatment of school education in a holistic manner and improving school effectiveness in terms of equal opportunities for schooling and learning outcomes has been the aspiration of all and multiple challenges are faced to maintain and provide proper education. On the occasion of India@75: Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, as part of its series- the State of Education- #EducationDialogue, #IMPRI Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organised a special deliberation on The State of School Education In India with Prof Muchkund Dubey, who is the President of the Council for Social Development, New Delhi. The moderator for the event, Dr Simi Mehta CEO and Editorial Director of the IMPRI. The chair of the event was Prof Jandhyala B.G. Tilak, an Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) National Fellow, the Distinguished Professor at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi and also a Former Professor & Vice-Ch

Rahul Dravid exhibited selflessness in heights unscaled by any other Indian batsman

By Harsh Thakor*  On January 11th maestro Rahul Dravid turned 50. No Indian batsmen were ever more of an embodiment of temperament or grit.as Rahul Dravid. Dravid was the best ambassador of sportsmanship in cricket in his day and age. In his time no Asian batsmen did what the doctor ordered, to the extent of Dravid. Dravid was manifestation of single-mindedess, tenacity and selflessness in sport. One hardly has an adjective to the ice coolness and craft Dravid exhibited in adjusting to the given situation. Rarely did any batsmen exhibit such a clinical o methodical approach to batting.

NHRC blindly followed BSF status report on fencing farmland off Indo-Bangladesh border

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) writes an open letter of protest against the action taken status report on restriction imposed by the BSF personnel upon the villagers of Changmari near Indo-Bangladesh border: *** I have the honour to inform you that we received one action taken status report dated 11.01.2023 from your Commission in respect of the above referred case from where it is revealed that your authority closed the case based on the report of the concerned authorities. In this connection I again raise my voice as the enquiry in respect of the above referred case was not properly conducted. Hence I submit this open letter of protest for the ends of justice. From the action taken status report of the Commission dated 11.01.2023 it is reported that concerned authority submitted a report dated 18.01.2022 where it is reported that the concerned area comes under the OPS responsibility of BOP Chengmari, 62 Bn BSF and is highly susceptible to trans-bo

Data analytics: How scientific enquiry process impacts quality of policy research

By IMPRI Team  Given the multidimensionality of policy and impact research, tech-driven policy prescriptions are playing a dominant role in the 21st century. As such, data analytics have become integral in this space. IMPRI Generation Alpha Data Centre (GenAlphaDC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute New Delhi has successfully conducted a #WebPolicyTalk 6-Week Immersive Online Hands-on Certificate Training Course on Data Analytics for Policy Research, spanning over 6-consecutive Saturdays from October 15th to November 19th, 2022. Along with this, datasets for hands-on learning were also provided for data analysis and learning. Participants were required to make a submission for evaluation at the end of the course, to obtain the certificate. This course comprised hands-on data learning sessions and various expert sessions on data discourses. The course especially catered to data and policy enthusiasts – including students, professionals, researchers, and other individuals lo

Brutal assault on Delhi Univ students as fear grips present rulers on rise of dissent

By Arhaan Baaghi  Various democratic student organizations (bsCEM, fraternity, DSU, SIO, AIRSO) had planned a screening of the BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question" in the Delhi University Arts Faculty, but the guards of the university and the Delhi police along with paramilitary forcefully detained the students just because we were trying to watch a documentary that scrutinizes the role of Modi in 2002 Gujarat riots. At first when the students started screening the documentary, the electricity of the department building was cut down. Students were brutally beaten by the police and university guards. Female students were also brutally manhandled and beaten. This whole incident shows the Brahmanical Hindutva fascist nature of the government and the university authority that is working as its puppet. An activist of bsCEM was manhandled by a male security guard, who tried to pull out his T shirt. Also various female activist were dragged by male security guards and their h

Great march of migrants during lockdown: Lessons not learned, missed opportunities

By IMPRI Team  A panel discussion on “The Great March of Migrants During The National Lockdown: Lessons Not Learned and Missed Opportunities” was organized by the #IMPRI Center for Human Centre for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi on the occasion of International Migrants Day, i.e December 18, 2022. Inaugurating the session, Ms Aanchal Kumari, a researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. The event was moderated by Dr Devender Singh, a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. The panellists included Prof. R.B Bhagat, Professor and Head, Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai; Prof Arun Kumar, Distinguished Economist, a Former Professor Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi and Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Chair Professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi; Ms Akriti Bhatia, Founder of People