The USA is returning to the Middle-Earth

Posted on 07/24/2022

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Sauron did not know he was uniting Middle-earth. Russia does not know that it will unite the West

It is an open secret that an informal ban on the use of the word ‘the West’ by diplomats has been established in two of Europe’s most influential capitals. Why? Because ‘the West’, or ‘Western civilisation’, is a transatlantic community, necessarily linking the US and Europe. And what is wrong with that, you may ask? For Poles, transatlantic unity has always been, and still is, a very beautiful thing: the West has always been the object of our material and spiritual aspirations, and its unity remains the guarantee of security and the long-term goal of most of our elites. However, for the leaders at the helm of Germany and France today, the West is more of a burden than a dream – which is why, in principle, we could get rid of the West from our heads and hearts.

Ehrlich gesagt, according to many in Berlin and Paris many things would be easier if it were not for “this America”. For example, no one would be meddling in defence matters and forcing – like former President Donald Trump – to spend more on defence. No one would be steering – like current President Joe Biden – the situation in Ukraine in a direction that is not in line with the gas interests of the German and French lobbies. No one would meddle in the internal politics of the European Union with its usual strategy of disciplining the weaker members by the stronger ones. In a word, life without the song about the West, i.e. Western civilisation as an ideal, would offer some prospects. – Why do we need the USA as a source of coercion? – it was a phrase echoing in Berlin, Paris and Brussels until recently. – After all, we make our own peace in Europe, and thanks to our clever policy of rapprochement through trade, we have even tamed the Russian bear.

This was the case before 24 February 2022. After this day there came grave silence.

Concubinage with a criminal

When the news of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine broke, Western Europe was puzzled. This could not have  happened! Decades of efforts to bring Russia closer to Europe were proved futile. As the political scientist of the Jagiellonian Club’s Centre for Analysis, Marcin Kedzierski, shows in his text ‘German priests of political idealism’, the Russian invasion hit the strategic pillars of German international policy. One of its pillars was the recognition that Germany was a trading state that built power by economic means (Handelstaat) and moral capital (Zivilmacht). Both of these ideas were used to justify trade with authoritarian powers, under the belief that with economic rapprochement would come civilisational and cultural rapprochement (Wandel durch Handel). The democratic cultural influence was suppoed to permeate authoritarian states as prosperity increases. Unfortunately, the Russian aggression has shown that these are hollow pipe dreams.

Unlike Germany, which underwent a genuine spiritual transformation as a result of the trauma of totalitarianism, Russia proved to be totalitarian to the marrow. The rapes, murders and torture of the Ukrainians show that it is the same steppe barbarians that have pestered the West for centuries.  No tie or western suit, no euro transfers flowing to Moscow have changed that one iota. The Germans seem to already be aware of this, but they don’t quite know what it means for them. The German government has obviously noticed that the concubinage in which a lot of money and affection was invested has turned out to be a concubinage with a katzap and a criminal. But the pathological attachment to the partner is still so strong that many in Germany are still in denial about the enormity of his crimes. Of course, it is difficult to remain a moral authority, if you are stuck in this kind of relationship…

As western Europe keeps blinking in cognitive dissonance, eastern Europe is shouting “we warned you!” for a change. These voices cannot be silenced so easily today. Previously, you could argue that the so-called “new Europe” are Russophobes, younger brothers who should be indulged and, if anything, can be ridiculed by example. But what if your little brother turns out to be smarter than you and builds gas ports in time to provide an alternative to the bloody gas from Moscow? On top of that, he does it in cooperation with your uncle from the USA, whom you wanted to cancel?

Germany or the Boromir of Europe

For us Central Europeans, the moral dimension of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is quite clear. It is a battle between good and evil – an unprovoked Russia attacked a smaller, weaker country, blaming it for existing at all. One internet meme illustrates this drama vividly by showing the countries of Europe supporting Ukraine as the fellowship of the ring, i.e. the heroes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous novel The Lord of the Rings. It is worth examining this metaphor, after all literary critics have more than once found analogies to Europe in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

In Tolkien’s book, a team sets out on a mission to destroy the evil ring, which is ultimately meant to prevent the ruler of Mordor, Sauron, from conquering Middle-earth. According to a internet meme, the team’s patron, the magician Gandalf, is the USA. The Three Seas countries, on the other hand, represent the united races supporting the hobbit – Ukraine – carrying the ring. Interestingly, in this juxtaposition, the Germans are given the ambiguous role of Boromir – a noble and strong warrior, who, however, tempted by the power of the ring, at a crucial moment betrays all and wants to steal the ring for himself. Only when the ring’s spell weakens, does Boromir seek to redeem himself.

Germany today is the model Boromir of Europe – noble and powerful, but tempted by the profit of cooperation with Russia at the moment of trial, they pretend there is no war – and remain silent. And then they make grotesque moves and pretend to help. They don’t want to admit that they care more about the power the ring gives than the fate of the lands of Middle-earth/Europe. And what happens next? Like Boromir, Germany will seek an act of reparation in the future.

The problem is that Europe today is in an even more difficult situation than Tolkien’s Middle-earth – for in our real drama of 2022, there are two Boromirs – the other is France, which is having diplomatic picnics with Putin as his soldiers murder civilians, rape women and deport Ukrainian children to Russia for destruction; and the buffer zone, the Three Seas region, is taking on the pressure of millions of migrants and numerous logistical and defence challenges.

From the perspective of the eastern flank of the EU and NATO, all this appears incredible – here are the western European countries, protected by the buffer zone, wanting to build good relations with the aggressor. In other words: they are cutting the branch they are sitting on because they need the wood. Such attitudes are causing European unity to creak and wobble, Germany is losing its image as a moral power, France is wasting an opportunity to assert its leadership, and Brussels is having to declare aid to Ukraine against the hidden will of the two strongest players. On top of this, NATO, called to the board by the war, is strengthening, with the American president proving to be a far more seasoned player than those calling him ‘Grandpa Biden’ would like. Everyone feels that this is the end of Angela Merkel’s belle époque in Europe – but to feel is still not the same as to understand. Merkel herself has been silent for more than a quarter. Finally, in a June interview with the journalist Der Spiegel, she says that she does not regret her policy towards Moscow at all: “The fact that [now with Russia – GL] diplomacy failed does not mean that I was not right.” In other words, it is Russia that is to be blamed for the rupture of the ‘trade for peace’ deal. The problem, however, is that the next generation of Europeans may judge all this very differently.

Sauron and Putin’s ancestors

Meanwhile, the US attitude appears to be more deliberate than many thought. Of course, there was a sigh of relief in Berlin and Paris when Joe Biden became president. Here comes to power someone who will not play to Central and Eastern Europe, but traditionally, to the Germans. After the subversive Trump, the aged Biden appeared to be a mainstay and back to business as usual. Initially, this was the case – criticising Eastern Europe for not sufficiently protecting the rights of sexual minorities or pointing out challenges to the rule of law seemed to tell the world that Democrat Biden was thinking ‘in German’. And he probably did – with one exception: Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It turned out that, on geopolitical and economic issues, US policy has quite a bit of continuity, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in power. To Berlin’s annoyance, Biden, like Trump, supported and reinforced the sanction of the treacherous pipeline that would connect Germany to Russia bypassing all of Central and Eastern Europe. Had it been completed, Russia would have been able to bypass the Three Seas region and gain a strategic advantage.

Perhaps this soft US-German dispute over the pipeline would have lasted for years to come, were it not for the biological clock of an ageing Putin telling him to contemplate historical greatness. In the case of Russia, however, due to its civilisational peculiarities, there can be no talk of greatness in the form of a great economy, great works of intellect, greatness in culture or technology. Russia’s constant is poverty, the apotheosis of steppe anguish, the stripping of individual human dignity and the belief that this pauperism can be imposed on others. Russia is also the authoritarianism typical of the pre-civilisational stage, combined with the cult of the ancestors and the glorification of aggression, which manifests itself in the militarisation of all forms of Russian culture – from Alexandrov’s choir to ballet on tanks, to weaponisation of all forms of culture – including literature and film as the tools of politics. If one takes out militarisation and natural resources, Russia de facto ceases to be Russia. Since, as a civilisation, Russia is incapable of looking inwards, it is left with the search for greatness only in the territorial dimension. In Orthodox sermons they repeat it to the hilt – Russia is the chosen people because it occupies (at least) 1/8 of the world’s territory. It must be great because its ancestors are watching. No wonder the Russian president wanted to match the ancestors by achieving some kind of mythical victory by following their example. For years, the Russian system has been justifying the need for a new victory through propagandists such as Alexander Dugin, who uses the rules of ‘Russian geopolitics’, i.e. the pseudo-science that certain countries have a ‘natural’ and geographically enshrined right to certain territories. Just like the evil ruler from ‘Lord of the Rings’ – Sauron, who was territorially obsessed with the whole of Middle-earth and, like Putin, believed that his land did not actually end anywhere. The difference, however, is that Sauron acted entirely rationally, whereas Putin feels the irrational breath of his mythologised ancestors on his back.

The Gandalf of Central Europe

Putin’s call to greatness was either not recognized or ignored in Berlin. It was, however, recognized in Washington. This is precisely why the US understood that the completion of Nord Stream 2 would make Germany even more dependent on Russia – and thus enable it to invade Eastern European countries with impunity while keeping Germany in the grip of gas blackmail.  In this sense, the Biden administration did not think – as was hoped in Europe – “in German” at all, but was able to soberly assume that too much dependence on Russia was a weakness. The US was also able to control the international narrative about Russian preparations for invasion, defusing – often days in advance – propaganda landmines about alleged biological weapons in Ukraine or mass graves of Russians in separatist-controlled districts. The US also provided Ukraine with digital tools to achieve better situational awareness. Like the wizard Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, they tried to prevent the evil coming from Russia from gaining the upper hand while the world was still living in ignorance and Berlin was deluding itself that it was all just a game of nerves by a moody Moscow.

When the invasion occurred, the US continued to play the role of Gandalf – as it did, long unwilling to use its power. Biden’s suggestion that Russia’s ‘minor incursion’ into Ukraine would be treated differently from a full-scale invasion – while sincere – was de facto received internationally as hesitation. However, after a crucial first week, when Ukraine defended itself against the initial attack, the US-Gandalf transformed itself and the aid stream began to increase over time. Biden also visited the Polish-Ukrainian border area, abandonded the moral and socia justice focus in his relationship with Eastern Europe, and a photo of him eating pizza with soldiers near Rzeszów has already become iconic.

According to the Statista portal, the US has provided nearly $25bn worth of aid to Ukraine between January and May 2022, with the next two countries – the UK and Poland – providing $2.5m-1.6bn respectively. Moreover, the seemingly jovial Biden firmly communicated in May that if a wartime opportunity was seized by China and attacked Taiwan, the US would respond militarily. This is a very clear, though overlooked – or even muted – statement by some in the media, suggesting a ‘hardening’ of the US stance towards Taiwan. Since 1979, the US has taken a ‘strategic ambiguity’ position on Taiwan, i.e. the US does not clearly define the type of response it would make if Taiwan were to be invaded by China. Biden’s change of tone was of course met with joy in Taiwan and anger in China. Moreover, his administration immediately began to backtrack on these words, emphasising that the US has no military cooperation agreement with Taiwan and that the 1979 agreement remains unchanged. Nonetheless, a clear signal went out to the world – the war in Ukraine does not weaken the US strategic objectives in Asia. At most, it strengthens them.

The same Biden, in order to counteract Russia’s energy blackmail, is ready to talk in July to such “difficult” raw material holders as Saudi Arabia, which is under infamy (caused by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi). The same Biden, to counter grain blackmail, i.e. Russia’s blockade of grain shipments from Ukraine, offered in June to help build grain silos on the Polish-Ukrainian border. It is thus apparent that Biden’s role is much more active than expected after his tactical stumbles during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is also apparent that there is no question of any US withdrawal from Europe. If anyone in Washington contemplated such a possibility, the inability of Germany and France to take the lead during the crisis and then war at the gates of the EU dispelled those doubts. Transformed – like Gandalf – by war, the US has entered the Three Seas region, all in white, and will be here more rather than less in the future.

Clash of civilisations again

In September 2021, I wrote in Rzeczpospolita in ‘Wrzenie cywilizacji’ (the boiling of civilisations) which argued that the dynamics of the modern world can be described by two civilisational processes – turmoil/boiling and clash. Turmoil consists in a clash and internal conflict within one civilisational organism with similar values, and clash – in the clash of two civilisations with different values. Today, both of these processes are evident in Europe – Western civilisation is undergoing quite a serious turmoil here: eastern Europe is trying to recreate the unity of the West, while parts of western Europe are, on the contrary, basically questioning the legitimacy of the West as a community. In a historiosophical sense, this trend is very dangerous. Meanwhile, on the borders of the European Union, a clash of civilisations is taking place at the best of times – the Western civilisation, i.e. the one the Ukrainians have chosen with their hearts to belong to, and the Russian civilisation, i.e. the one infused into the Russians by the church-fuel conglomerate. Russian civilisation clearly has no power of attraction beyond its geographical borders, and its neighbouring countries – such as Kazakhstan – are playing layabouts only because they cannot wrap up and flee to another region of the globe. This is why the poet Michał Zabłocki, who compares Russia to a warship in Mateusz Nagórski’s song ‘Russkij wojennyj karabl’, is right: “Everyone stares, joyfully waving ‘hey!’, so long as it’s far away and not here yet today!”.

This fear of the Russian warship, however, paradoxically also has positive potential. After all, nothing unites like fear. Sauron did not see that by wanting power and sowing feuds in Middle-earth he would ultimately unite it; similarly, Putin did not foresee that by wanting to smash NATO and the European Union he could unite them. For new generations will come to power in France and Germany; besides, Russia’s situation will become more and more difficult in the years to come and its influence in the West will diminish: even in the event of gaining the upper hand over Ukraine, the most likely future scenarios for Russia look difficult. Let us first assume that Russia will wage war, but will not achieve its goals – in which case international isolation will continue and totalitarianism in Russia will take on increasingly ‘Korean’ and grotesque forms.  Russia will weaken in the process, although Moscow will still be able to trumpet a propaganda success for intra-Russian use; people will think the war is won regardless of the facts at the real level.  Now suppose the Russians achieve their aims by tearing off part of Ukraine – fear in neighbouring countries will increase enormously and isolation will increase. Then the victory will turn out to be a Pyrrhic one, because the effect will be the permanent recognition of energy resources from Russia as insecure and the reorientation of supply chains to bypass Russia. In both scenarios, an isolated Russia will increase its technological and civilisational dependence on China, which has latched a grip on Moscow and is just preparing to chew.

Will Macron like the Three Seas?

Other regions of the world will learn a lesson from this chewing. To ensure that Europe is not similarly chewed up one day, the Union will increase its strategic autonomy. The autonomy project, which has been on the lips of politicians especially in France and Germany after Donald Trump’s push for more military spending in the EU, is gaining steam due to geopolitical instability. The war in Ukraine has even determined that it will become a permanent aspiration of European politics in this decade. For no non-European region, no matter how many assurances flow from lobbyists, politicians and diplomats, can today be considered 100% safe, secure and condemned to peace. “Open strategic autonomy” of the EU, as defined by EU documents, is supposed to result in the machinery of European civilisation being able to operate undisturbed in the event of future crises. Unfortunately, however, it is not clear what the autonomy is ultimately supposed to be. Some, like French President Emanuel Macron, would like a largely military autonomy, creating an alternative to NATO, among others. Others, like Germany, would like to prioritise raw material and industrial independence. There is a sense in this. As Piotr Arak, director of the Polish Economic Institute, points out, half of all microprocessors in the world – including almost all the most advanced models – today come from Taiwan. Their shortage due to increased demand after the pandemic has hurt many European industries, including the automotive industry in Germany. In the future, for example, if the supply chain from Taiwan were to break, Europe could be plunged into a crisis effectively blocking technological progress across the continent. The effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine could be similar – supplies of rare raw materials from war zones (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus) could collapse in the long term, not to mention supplies from Africa, which could be shaken by, for example, Russian grain blackmail or other peculiar ideas of the world’s dictators.

Strategic autonomy is intended to increase the EU’s resilience to these crises by enhancing extraction, production and processing capacities in Europe. Importantly, the technologically, industrially and logistically under-invested Three Seas region is ideal for achieving these goals. Harnessing the potential in this region of the EU – people, factories, competences – is even necessary if Europe dreams of achieving greater civilisational autonomy. For the rest, the Three Seas Initiative itself is not wasting any time and is building cross-border networks of influence – in June, in Lublin, the Ternopil and Lviv regions of Ukraine joined the economic network associated with the Three Seas. Also in June, the US announced greater involvement in the initiative at the Three Seas Summit in Riga. It is apparently a twist of fate that France, which for many years has been seizing on Central and Eastern European initiatives directed further east (the Eastern Partnership, energy diversification and now aid to Ukraine) today needs these regions to push for strategic autonomy. In this context, there is also an opportunity for a new opening of cooperation between France and Poland.

Hijacking Europe

For new axes of cooperation, however, humility is needed. Lawyer Krzysztof Wojczal, in his forecasting book ‘The Third Decade’, argues that a time of humility for global powers is now coming. Humility, the counterweight to hubris, is a virtue, and whoever discovers it can win a lot. The humility of the USA in the face of global challenges punishes the search for a new but equally strong format of cooperation with Europe. Humility prompts China to persist in peace despite seemingly attractive strategic windows for war. In contrast, a lack of humility has pushed Russia into a war leading to difficult future trajectories. This same lack of humility makes it difficult for Germany and France to see the fatal mistake of relying on the Kremlin to destroy the idea of the West. Meanwhile, the West, to avoid being chewed up by the forces of history, must today remain humbly united. As the Power of States Index, which I co-wrote, shows, there is no tandem in the world that can generate a power greater than Europe and the US acting together.

The stakes are great because history says ‘check’: The Russians have, since the beginning of the war, kidnapped more than two hundred thousand (sic!) children from Ukraine and deported them to the depths of the steppes – to perdition, to human trafficking, to sale for organs, to torment, to Russification, to death. Moscow is quite literally kidnapping Europe, and in the future it will also raise its hand against Polish, Finnish, Czech and German children. After all, as Putin believes, Russia does not end anywhere. This attitude of Moscow is already ruining German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s dream of peace on the continent. In his essay “Toward Perpetual Peace”, written around the time of the third partition of Poland (1795), Kant warned that Europe could only be at peace if it could guarantee that no state could be taken over by another. Without these guarantees, a united Europe, Kant argued, would collapse.

There is hope, however! According to the (meta-)physics of history, the clash between Western and Russian civilisation has unleashed great energy – which intensifies the turmoil within the West itself. Paradoxically, however, this may be a historic opportunity. For at the boiling point, unique phase transformations virtually impossible under otherwise stable conditions can take place. Thanks to the unleashed energy of the boiling point, the West today has the opportunity to win the clash – if it remains humble and takes a rapid course of geopolitical unity. The only alternative to this course is another course – an accelerated fall-to-knees course.

Grzegorz Lewicki

Originally published in Polish in “Rzeczpospolita” Plus Minus weekend’s edition https://www.rp.pl/plus-minus/art36617561-putin-chcial-rozbic-nato-czego-nie-przewidzial 2.07.2022. Translated by deepl.com + edited by GL.