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Misjudgments and Biden's foreign policy

by Peter Vonnahme and Jeffrey Sachs
Russia is to blame for our gas shortage, rising prices and high inflation. That's what the newspapers say, that's what you hear on the news and that's what presenters claim. Of course, this is not true. But the constant repetition of false claims shapes the public consciousness. This is evident from the fact that most invited talk show guests take such claims for granted.
Misjudgements - We have to make ourselves honest
by Peter Vonnahme.
[This article posted on 11/4/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Fehleinschätzungen – Wir müssen uns ehrlich machen.]

Russia is to blame for our gas shortage, rising prices and high inflation. That's what the newspapers say, that's what you hear on the news and that's what presenters like Markus Lanz, Maybrit Illner and Sandra Maischberger claim. Of course, this is not true. But the constant repetition of false claims shapes the public consciousness. This is evident from the fact that most invited talk show guests take such claims for granted. If a daredevil studio guest tries to differentiate or even contradict, he is rigorously interrupted, shouted over, or prevented from presenting his thoughts in an orderly fashion with a staccato of further questions. From Peter Vonnahme.

Walking the tightrope between simplifications and lies

A prime example of this perfidious method is the rhetorical rape of political scientist Prof. Ulrike Guérot in the Lanz talk show of 2. 6. 2022 (from about min. 16) on the subject of arms deliveries. Whatever Guérot said, it was chopped up into fragments by the Russophobic triumvirate Markus Lanz as an immoral host, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann as a Bellicist assault gun and Frederik Pleitgen as a US-trimmed war reporter. The only correct way of thinking was clear from the beginning: We, the West, are the good guys, Russia is evil, Putin even more so, weapons are necessary, negotiating is pointless.

In such a climate, deliberation, truth-seeking and de-escalation have no chance. All the more reason for distorted images and lies to flourish. The preconceived notion that Russia alone is to blame for all the misery of the present has an easy time of it after half a year of media distortions and hard-boiled indoctrination. The idea that energy gaps, price increases and payment problems could have other causes is practically absent from the mainstream of newspapers and TV stations. We have become accustomed to simplifications and lies. Peace has receded into the far distance.

The truth

Russia has broken international law by invading Ukraine. But that does not mean that this war created the problems that weigh heavily on Germany today: Gas shortages, unaffordable energy prices, cold rooms for the poor, company bankruptcies, inflation. These are not direct consequences of the war, but consequences of the sanctions imposed by Germany against Russia. Without them, the problems would not exist.

Let's remember: It was not Russia that stopped gas supplies to Germany, but Germany that declared after the Russian invasion of Ukraine that it no longer wanted to buy gas from Russia so as not to fill Putin's war chest. German Foreign Minister Baerbock narrowly celebrated the EU sanctions package with the most ill-considered line of the year: "This will ruin Russia." Putin then reminded her that he could also cut off gas to Germany.

These were unusual tones from Moscow. After all, Russia had been appreciated for decades for supplying energy both cheaply and reliably. And everyone was satisfied, politicians, business, consumers.

The supply freeze

What is important is the chronological sequence. First, Germany sided with the warring party Ukraine by supplying heavy weapons and instructing Ukrainian military personnel; this can be considered de facto as participation in the war (according to the Scientific Service of the German Bundestag). In response, the Kremlin resorted to its arsenal of countermeasures, ranging from short-term delivery restrictions due to repair work to maintenance programs to real delivery stops. In retrospect, it is obvious that the German sanctions and military aid are the decisive causes of our current problems. Responsible policymakers would have been expected not to decide on sanctions before becoming familiar with the massive vulnerability of their own country. Such a consideration has been inadequately done, if at all.

Nord Stream 1 and 2

Large holes were blown in these pipelines in late September. The originator is not known. What is clear, however, is that the sabotage requires capacities that are only available to state agencies (submarines or naval divers). The damage to the three pipeline strings hit by the explosions is significant. How long it would take to repair them is uncertain.

Western leading media, as might be expected, blamed Russia for the attacks. An advisor to the Ukrainian president declared, without any evidence, that the "gas leak" was "a terrorist attack planned by Russia." This is not convincing. Why should Russia destroy its own pipelines, which it built at a cost of billions? That would also be pointless because Putin - had he wanted to - could have sanctioned Germany much more quickly and easily by turning off the gas tap.

However, there is clearly a great interest on the part of the U.S. in destroying Nord Stream. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a few days after the blasts that the U.S. is now "the leading supplier of LNG gas to Europe" and that Europe's dependence on Russian energy has ended once and for all. Actually, this goal had been set long ago. For U.S. President Joe Biden had announced in no uncertain terms on February 7 during the inaugural visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Washington would "put an end to Nord Stream 2" in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This seals Germany's energy fate, at least for this winter. It is virtually impossible that gas will be transported to Europe via Nord Stream, even if the government were to change its mind under the pressure of economic hardship.

Economic war

Against this backdrop, the outrage of the traffic light parties and the CDU/CSU over a remark made by Sahra Wagenknecht in her recent BT speech is hypocritical. Wagenknecht accused the government of "unleashing an unprecedented economic war against our most important energy supplier" and in the next half-sentence said "of course the war in Ukraine is a crime." What's wrong with that? Wagenknecht did not say that Germany had unleashed a war, she spoke of an economic war. That is something different. It is debatable whether this pointed formulation was chosen happily. But it contains more truth than the truncated formula that Russia is to blame for our looming economic misery. This has become part of our linguistic usage, but it is wrong.

Rescue package and "double whammy

The foreseeable personal hardships and economic upheavals of the coming months cannot be prevented by the hundreds of billions of euros in aid programs planned by the government. The traffic lights have loosened up a lot of money since the start of the Ukraine war, for example 100 billion for the Bundeswehr ("Zeitenwende"), 200 billion for a defense umbrella and ongoing payments to Ukraine. But no matter what the government calls its programs, whether "special assets," "gas price brake," "double whammy" or economic stabilization fund, they are and remain debts. They are just not called that. This is intended to undermine the constitutional debt brake (Article 109 of the Basic Law). But these programs will not be able to solve the problems they have created themselves.

The fact is, you can print as much money as you want, but not a single drop of oil. Nor any gas. And that is exactly what we need.

The way out

This means that policymakers must get to the real causes of the ills.

They must break the vicious circle of suspicions, accusations, sanctions, counter-sanctions, arms deliveries resulting in war victims and refugee misery. Our politicians should resist the temptation to blame "the Russians" for everything that goes wrong, as it were on suspicion. It would be helpful to stop avoiding inconvenient truths.

This includes the fact that the current war did not begin on February 24, 2022, with the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, but that this breach of international law has a long history in which the Western world of states has played an inglorious role. I have explained this several times (among others here and here ).

Special position of Ukraine?

We have to say openly, for example, that it is not self-evident that one country sacrifices itself for another, especially when the latter - like Ukraine - is not a member of a common alliance system. Conversely, this means that taking national interests into account, especially the welfare and well-being of one's own population, is neither cowardly nor heartless; for members of the government, this even follows from the oath of office. The overwhelming majority in the Bundestag subordinated itself to American geopolitical interests. Germany has strongly supported Ukraine economically and militarily, partly under pressure and partly out of conviction. It is therefore time for Germany to make further aid to Ukraine dependent on recognizable peace efforts by the Ukrainian leadership. But so far it has not had the courage to do so.

To make matters worse, Ukraine is not the only country in need of our help. Many countries are at war (e.g., Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cameroon, Congo). Other countries have been hit by major natural disasters (earthquakes, droughts, floods, etc.). The number of victims is sometimes dramatically higher than in Ukraine. This country has no special position, neither historically nor politically. The mere fact that Ukraine was attacked by Russia, the system opponent of the "Western community of values", does not justify preferential treatment from a humanitarian point of view. The people of other countries suffer no less from cruel wars and devastation.

Ruin Russia?

Nor should it be taboo to think about the continuation of sanctions. They are not natural phenomena, such as avalanches, floods or famines, but political constructs. As a result, they can be revoked at any time by political decisions. This is the case when it becomes clear that sanctions do not (or no longer) serve their purpose or - even worse - harm one's own country more than the actual sanction addressee.
The original mistake of the German sanctions was the obsessive idea of strategists à la Baerbock, Hofreiter, Strack-Zimmermann and Kiesewetter that Russia could be ruined. Even if this succeeded - which is rather unlikely - what would be gained? Nothing! Because the geography cannot be changed. Russia would remain the largest country on earth, an area that extends over ten time zones. It is the country that has the most mineral resources in the world, besides coal, oil, gas, also iron ore, nickel, copper, aluminum, platinum, gold, diamonds and uranium. This huge country will always be our neighbor, with whom we will have to live together for better or worse. With and without Putin. If we actually succeeded in ruining Russia, we would have a destroyed country in our backyard with many millions of misery refugees moving towards Germany. Is that what we want? Therefore, with all appreciation for Ukraine and its impressive fortitude, we must not win the war against Russia, but peace. Then all the aforementioned problems will solve themselves.


Biden's foreign policy is the demise of Democrats - and Ukraine
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
[This article posted on 11/3/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Bidens Außenpolitik ist der Untergang der Demokraten – und der Ukraine – MAKROSKOP.]

The proxy war between the U.S. and Russia is devastating Ukraine - ironically, in the name of saving Ukraine. But Biden is also running into a problem.

Through a deeply misguided foreign policy, U.S. President Joe Biden is undermining the Democrats' chances of success in Congress. Believing that America's reputation in the world is at stake because of the Ukraine war, he has so far consistently rejected a diplomatic alternative. At the same time, the Ukraine war - combined with the Biden administration's severing of economic ties with China - is exacerbating stagflation. What is becoming a tangible problem for Biden is likely to give Republicans one or both houses of Congress. Even worse, this course further exposes Ukraine to destruction and threatens to lead to nuclear war.

Of course, Biden has inherited a thankless legacy. The U.S. economy is reeling from profound disruptions to global supply chains due to the pandemic and Trump's erratic trade policies. But instead of trying to mend fences and fix the disruptions, he has further escalated conflicts with Russia and China.

Biden attacked House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for expressing doubts about another large financial package for Ukraine:

"They [House Republicans] have said that if they win the election, they probably won't continue to fund Ukraine, the Ukrainian war against the Russians. These people didn't get it. It's about much more than Ukraine - it's about Eastern Europe. It's about NATO. It is about real, serious, serious consequences. They have no sense of American foreign policy."

When a group of progressive Democrats in Congress pushed for negotiations to end the Ukraine war, they were pilloried by fellow party members who toed the White House line and forced to withdraw their call for diplomacy.

Biden believes that U.S. credibility depends on extending NATO to Ukraine and defeating Russia. Repeatedly, he refused to negotiate diplomatically with Russia on the issue of NATO's eastward expansion. A grave mistake, not without a certain irony: in the name of saving Ukraine, he has fueled a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia in which Ukraine is being devastated.

Not to mention that the whole issue of NATO enlargement is based on a U.S. lie that goes back to the 1990s. The U.S. and Germany promised Gorbachev, as part of the negotiations for the Two Plus Four Treaty, that NATO would not move "an inch to the east" if Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Warsaw Pact military alliance and accepted German reunification. Significantly - and with typical cynicism - the U.S. did not abide by that agreement.

Read also:

How the West betrayed Gorbachev and fueled the Ukraine conflict

Thomas Palley | September 06, 2022

As recently as 2021, Biden could have prevented the Ukraine war without sacrificing a single vital U.S. or Ukrainian interest. U.S. security depends absolutely not on NATO expansion to include Ukraine or Georgia. On the contrary, NATO expansion around the Black Sea region undermines U.S. security by putting the U.S. in direct confrontation with Russia (and in further violation of promises made three decades earlier). Nor does Ukraine's security depend on NATO enlargement, as even Volodymyr Selenskyj had confirmed on numerous occasions.

Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned the United States since 2008 to keep NATO out of Ukraine, a region of vital security interest to Russia. Biden has been equally firm in pushing for NATO expansion. In late 2021, Putin made a last-ditch diplomatic attempt to block NATO expansion. Biden gave him a clear rebuff. What was that but a dangerous foreign policy?

Read also:

Ukraine conflict spins out of control

Jeffrey D. Sachs | October 04, 2022

Even if many American politicians don't want to hear it: Putin's warning about NATO expansion was as serious as it was understandable. Russia does not want a heavily armed NATO military on its border, just as the United States would not accept a Chinese-backed heavily armed Mexican military on the U.S.-Mexico border. The last thing the U.S. and Europe need is a long war with Russia. Yet that is where Biden's insistence on NATO expansion around Ukraine has brought us.
The high price of escalation

The U.S. and Ukraine should accept three perfectly reasonable conditions to end the war: Ukraine's military neutrality; the de facto allegiance to Russia of Crimea, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet since 1783; and negotiated autonomy for the ethnic Russian regions, as called for in the Minsk agreements but not implemented by Ukraine.

Instead, the Biden Administration has repeatedly urged Ukraine to keep fighting. It torpedoed negotiations in March when Ukrainians were considering a negotiated end to the war. Now Ukraine is paying a heavy price: cities and infrastructure lie in ruins, and tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have died in the ensuing fighting. In other words, despite NATO's much-vaunted weapons, Russia recently destroyed up to half of Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

Meanwhile, U.S.-imposed trade and financial sanctions against Russia have boomeranged. The disruption of Russian energy supplies has left Europe in a deep economic crisis that is also affecting the U.S. economy. And the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline has further exacerbated the crisis in Europe.

Last but not least, misguided U.S. foreign policy has also brought about what generations of geopolitical strategists - from Henry Kissinger to Zbigniew Brzezinski - have always warned against: Driving Russia and China into a tight embrace. By dramatically escalating the cold war with China while simultaneously waging hot war with Russia, Biden has done just that.

From the beginning of his presidency, Biden has drastically curtailed diplomatic contacts with China, sparked new controversies over America's longstanding one-China policy, repeatedly called for more arms sales to Taiwan, and pushed for a global ban on high-tech exports to China. Both Democrats and Republicans have joined in this anti-China policy, but the price will be the same as in Ukraine: further destabilization of the world and also of the U.S. economy.

As noted, Biden has inherited a difficult economic legacy - the pandemic, the Fed's excess liquidity in 2020, the large budget deficit in 2020, and the global tensions that already exist. Yet it has exacerbated economic and geopolitical crises, not solved them. This makes a change in foreign policy all the more urgent. After the elections, there will be an important time for realignment. Instead of escalation, Americans and the world need economic recovery, diplomacy, and peace.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and president of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has been an advisor to three UN secretaries-general, currently António Guterres.
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