Monday, September 16, 2013

Exceptionalism versus extaordinary

President Putin has launched a direct attack against American exceptionalism.  True, the term has been "over used."  Nevertheless, the reality still stands and despite many shortcomings the American dream is alive and continues to attract immigrants by the thousands.  The Russian Federation has made many extraordinary strides lately but it remains unable to shed the stains of the past.  Since Peter the Great's intellectual thefts, from Catherine the Great and Stalin's unsavory records, Russia stands in history as the butcher of its own and but also as the unsurpassed courageous ultimate shield for Stalingrad. The Soviet Union was built around one of the most ambitious and far reaching Utopian philosophies ever.  Marxism, alas, only led to mass starvation in the USSR, as it did later in Mao's China.  It fought Nazi Germany after having embraced it for a chunk of territory.  The Russian history is the stuff only Eisenstein could grasp.  The stairs in this Bolshevik Potemkin drama or the massacre in Yekaterinburg continue to haunt us,  as does Pasternak's 'A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.'

There is an anger in Putin which is real and does deserve respect. The demise of his former empire was like Prussic acid thrown at his soul.  This man is obsessed with this loss and will try anything to compensate for what he feels as a humiliation. He is more Ivan than Chekhov. The whole Russian foreign policy is rooted in this need for revenge. Moscow is trying to build networks such as in the Shanghai cooperation council or by engaging Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
This leads to uneven results while the tensions in the south Caucasus continue to cause trouble. Hence Moscow's policy versus Syria is more than about Syria.

Few people knock at Moscow's door. Russia remains in large part a country that is more remarkable for weight than levity.  The United States by comparison has of late accumulated mistakes and geo-political myopia. Since the Korean War, blunders have been plentiful.  Still, they have surpassed any other country in accumulating Nobel Prizes, patents and creativity. Their often incoherent political apparatus continues to be rooted in a most sophisticated political/ constitutional framework which stands undisputed, notwithstanding abuse and malfunction.  People of all kinds still want to get in:  from cheap labor hoping for better wages to the children of the brain drain out of Asia and other continents. America attracts (whatever the legitimate criticisms), others distract. There is so much that does not work here--infrastructure, political gridlock, gun lobby--but there is so much which fights against malfunction that one ends in a draw until the better prevails. This gives the United States an appeal which reaches further than setbacks, structural deficiencies and, let's say it, socio-aberrations in education and social welfare, where the best hardly compensates for the worst.

I understand frustrations in the short term but I know likewise that America in the future will need more bouncers to control its borders than any other country ever will. The difference being that individuals in the vast majority want to be American.  Drop the latest Apple iPad in Red Square if you want to see how a mass movement in this new century starts.

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