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At the press-conference following his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Sochi yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that the rebuilding of Russia-US relations had to be grounded in mutual respect and in “consideration of each others’ interests,” and stated that he was hopeful that communication-channels which had been “frozen” could be re-opened.
This was a reference to the need to maintain deconfliction-mechanisms, not only on the military level (Russia-US military deconfliction-channels in Syria have worked quite well), but also on the diplomatic level. While the United States has continued to maintain open military deconfliction channels with Russia, especially in Syria, it has stepped back from diplomatic deconfliction mechanisms in recent years.
In itemizing the extremely wide-ranging topics discussed yesterday – Venezuela, Syria, Ukraine, the Middle East generally, Afghanistan, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, North Korean denuclearization, etc – Foreign Minister Lavrov’s account of the discussions to the press, which was in no way contradicted by anything which Secretary of State Pompeo said subsequently, made one thing extremely clear:
The world is now officially being jointly co-managed by a troika of great powers. In the face of the inevitable, the United States has finally acquiesced. Foreign Minister Lavrov’s reference to the trilateral discussions taking place between Russia, the United States and China concerning Afghanistan was particularly telling. Considering that Afghanistan is militarily occupied by the United States, but its vast mineral resources are being most profitably exploited by China, that sounds like a perfectly sensible approach to the management of Afghanistan.
This is how the world works now – it’s being run by a committee of Chinese, Russian and American diplomats. The new normal sounds more pragmatic and conducive to the maintenance of international security than the old normal. While the crisis of later capitalism will continue, on the geopolitical level at least, the interregnum may very well be coming to an end. Equilibrium is being restored, in the form of de facto multi-polarity.
This mutual implicit recognition that the world is now being jointly co-managed by the great powers was also exemplified in Lavrov’s comments concerning North Korean denuclearization. He stated that North Korean denuclearization would be a reciprocal response to North Korea receiving certain guarantees regarding its security, and that Russia supported the US-Korean dialogue concerning denuclearization. Russia has quite skillfully manoeuvred itself into the role of the broker.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of Secretary of State Pompeo’s remarks to the press yesterday was the almost total absence of exceptionalist rhetoric or terminology. He pre-discursively accepted this multi-polar new-normal which Lavrov’s statements had postulated implicitly.
To be clear, not every vestige of American exceptionalism has disappeared, but the United States no longer practices exceptionalism as an actual geo-political doctrine. It seems that American exceptionalism now operates only on the epistemological level – “We are still the transcendental arbiters of The Truth.”
For example, concerning allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Pompeo stated that “there are things that Russia can do to demonstrate that these kinds of activities are a thing of the past, and I hope that Russia will take advantage of those opportunities….”
Lavrov had already demolished the allegations in question, just as the Russiagate narrative has been repeatedly demolished, but Pompeo simply deflected that point, and continued just the same….
In the context of what has been made clear by yesterday’s Lavrov-Pompeo meeting, this offers us an insight as to one of the reasons why Russiagate became such a transcendental article of faith for so many Americans. Insofar as the United States can no longer maintain the belief in itself as the exclusive superpower or hegemon, it can maintain exceptionalism now only as an epistemological doctrine, not as an actual geo-political doctrine
– “….but we are still the transcendental arbiters of The Truth. We may no longer exclusively run the world, but we can still decide that it’s flat….”
Another noteworthy point of Mike Pompeo’s statements at the press-conference was that he uses the word “people” (or, rather, “People”) in a way which is strikingly similar to how Louis Antoine de Saint-Just used it (Saint-Just frequently invoked the Rousseauian concept of “the People’s will”). This was exemplified, for instance, in Pompeo’s statements that “I want to emphasize the American friendship with the Russian People” (by implication, as opposed to the Russian government) or “We want the Venezuelan People to get their democracy back.”
Both Pompeo and Saint-Just use the word “People” as a metaphysical category rather than as an empirical category, and this is closely connected to the point that American exceptionalism is now practiced only as an epistemological doctrine rather than as a geo-political one.
Even if 68% of Venezuelan voters ticked the box for Maduro last year (an empirical fact), we can still postulate “The People” as a metaphysical category, just as Jacobins such as Saint-Just did during the reign of terror.
This is perhaps not so surprising considering that, as a political construct, the United States is a product of the most epistemologically naïve impulses expressed by the movers and shakers of the French enlightenment. Both were products of eighteenth century secular transcendentalism.
And likewise, “democracy” is postulated as a metaphysical category, rather than as an empirically observable practice.
Regarding Venezuela, Pompeo stated “We have disagreement. I urged my Russian colleagues to support the Venezuelan people as they return democracy to their country. The US and over 50 other countries agree that it’s time for Maduro to go….” And later “….Whether it’s Iranian forces, or Chinese or Cubans, the Trump administration’s position is that they all need to cease having an impact in supporting Maduro, and allow the Venezuelan people not only to get their democracy back, but give them an opportunity to rebuild this country which has tremendous wealth….”
He didn’t seem to understand the glaring contradictions in his very own wording. What exactly does “democracy” mean, if it doesn’t mean citizens voting? So the Chinese, the Cubans and the Iranians should all step back, and allow Venezuelan democracy to be restored, which means that “the United States and 50 other countries” should decide that “it’s time for Maduro to go….”
Word-salad on this level became a norm during Obama-era press-briefings by State Department officials such as John Kirby and Jen Psaki, but to see the United States Secretary of State practice it bare-faced while sitting at the same table as the Russian Foreign Minister is another matter.