Sunday, March 12, 2017

Divide and Conquer

In my previous two posts, I focused on one of the dual motivations driving Russian President Vladimir Putin: Greed. Already arguably the wealthiest man in the world, Putin is not satisfied. He wants more. A half-trillion dollars more for starters. His greed is insatiable, but so is his other motivator: an unquenchable thirst for power.

Most men would be content to have achieved a position of ultimate power within their geopolitical sphere as Putin has. But Vladimir Putin is unlike most men. His quest for power, like his insatiable desire for riches, knows no bounds… Or geographical boundaries.

The worst day of Vladimir Putin’s life was undoubtedly when he witnessed the fall of his beloved Soviet Union. Putin had risen dramatically in the Soviet state, becoming a high-ranking officer of the KGB. That the Soviet Union was a morally and politically bankrupt ideology that harmed rather than helped its citizenry does not matter to Putin; for him, as part of the elite, the Soviet state was a true paradise.  He dreams of restoring the Soviet Union, and perhaps even going beyond it to obtain global hegemony.

Even at the height of its power, the Soviet Union was no match militarily for the United States. Russia, as it stands today, is even more outclassed militarily despite being a nuclear power. Russia is nothing more than an enormous gas station in a barren wasteland. Putin is a shrewd man and he realizes he cannot achieve his dream of making Russia great again through military force. Instead, he has turned to an ancient stratagem of warfare when faced with a monolithic enemy: divide and conquer.

Putin’s enemy is the post-World War II Western alliance formalized as NATO and led by the United States. NATO is a construct emanating from the move toward globalization after the war. We had two world wars in the first half of the 20th century; we have not had a third world war and the reason for this is globalization. The free nations of the world have voluntarily entered into alliances – political, military, and most importantly economic – that have allowed them to achieve mutual objectives with economies of scale and have so integrated their economies, and to a certain extent their cultures, that war would be unthinkable because the nations are interdependent. Declaring war on one another would be self-destructive.

If you’ve ever lived in a community with a homeowners association, then you understand the concept of globalization. Neighbors banding together form an organization, contribute money and labor, and use its combined buying power to provide for the security and maintenance of all its members and doing so with greater bargaining power achieved through their economies of scale. In this case, it’s neighboring nations that band together through organizations like NATO and the European Union to provide for the security and well-being of its member states. Homeowners associations provide valuable services to their members but sometimes their rules and regulations can become onerous, motivating members to sell their homes and move from the community. That’s what we saw happen on an international scale when Britain voted to leave the European Union in what has become known as Brexit.

Putin’s stratagem of divide and conquer rests on breaking up the Western monolithic entities such as the European Union and NATO. As I said, he cannot do this by force so he is doing it by subterfuge. The antithesis of globalization is nationalism. A group or team is made up of cooperative members working for the common good; if each member were encouraged to focus inwardly as an individual and not as a team player, then the team would disintegrate. Economists have seen this happen with cartels which fall apart when the individual members put their interests ahead of the cartel. For Putin’s stratagem to succeed, he must make the individual nations look inward and place their well-being ahead of anyone else’s. Britain first. France first. America first. Divide and conquer.

Putin realized the way to conquer the West, and perhaps the world, was not through guns and missiles but rather through stroking the flames of nationalism. This meant identifying the outliers, the fringe element, in those nations that were advocating nationalism or isolationism over globalism, and doing everything it could to support them. The nationalist parties work from the same template: they promote nationalism over globalism, often with a slogan of (Name of country) First!; they are vehemently against immigration; and they target a particular ethnic group as scapegoats.

Who are the leaders of the far right, nationalism movements throughout Europe?
Britain's Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, successfully campaigned for the Brexit vote.
France's Marine Le Pen leads the anti-European Union, anti-immigration National Front party. She took over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, an avowed anti-Semite and Holocaust denier.
Heinz-Christian Strache leads Austria’s Freedom Party (FPO) founded by Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi official and SS officer.
Frauke Petry leads Germany's Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) which is poised to become Germany’s third largest political party  — and the first overtly nationalist party in the German government since the Third Reich.
Geert Wilders heads The Netherlands' Party for Freedom, and is currently on trial for hate speech.
Gabor Vona leads Hungary’s third-largest party, Jobbik – an anti-immigration, populist, and economic protectionist party. Considered anti-Semitic, it rails against “Zionist Israel” and supports criminalizing homosexuality. Hungary's xenophobic Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been criticized by human rights groups for his hard-line policy on migration.
Jimmie Akesson leads The Sweden Democrats party, which has roots in the white supremacist movement. Its platform calls for heavily restricting immigration and a referendum on European Union membership.
Nikolaos Michaloliakos is the head of Greece's neo-fascist, anti-Semitic Golden Dawn, the nation’s third-largest political party. Golden Dawn, described by the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner as “neo-Nazi and violent,” promotes extreme anti-immigrant views and favors a defense agreement with Russia.

What do I mean when I say these people have extreme anti-immigrant positions? Germany’s Petry suggested police should have the right to shoot illegal migrants at the border "if necessary." Her deputy Beatrix von Storch took it a step further, emphatically stating "yes," border guards should fire on illegal female refugees with children. After a public outcry, she backed down, stating "The use of firearms against children is not permitted," but added "women are a different matter." Petry’s most disturbing comment, at least in my opinion, was her justification for her anti-migrant position based on the premise that Germany must control who is living in the country: not who immigrates, legally or illegally, to the country but rather who may live within its borders. It struck me as reminiscent of a right of determination German Chancellor Adolf Hitler espoused.

Putin would love to see each of these leaders rise to power within his or her own nation and take their countries away from globalism and international cooperation, and turn inward in rabid nationalism. It would benefit Putin’s vision for world hegemony but it would not be beneficial for the world, or for the individual countries who go down that path and especially not for minorities living in those countries.

Donald Trump and members of his campaign and administration have met with many of these far right-wing European leaders. Trump has espoused the same far right wing philosophy of nationalism over globalism, even adopting the historically tarnished slogan of America First! ; Trump is vehemently against immigration, having built his campaign around the concept of literally walling off America; and Trump has targeted members of a particular ethnic group as scapegoats, in his case Muslims. As more revelations come to light regarding the connections between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, we should keep in mind Putin’s ultimate objectives and Trump’s actions and rhetoric and look for their convergence.

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