Resolving Conflict Resolution

Libertarians are a ton of fun, and so are the free-market absolutists, and the Ayn Rand folks. They hold, each in their own way, that if everyone were allowed to do whatever they wanted, with no rules and regulations, and no taxes to pay for the creation and enforcement of rules and regulations, the world would be a wonderful place, a place of amazing innovation and vast new wealth. With no constraints on any kind of human behavior, good things would finally happen, because they finally could happen. Government only gets in the way – the standard line from Republicans from before there even were Republicans. For the free-market absolutists, market forces will weed out the bad stuff that might happen – no one will buy your goods or services if you offer anything less than the best, or you lie about what you’re offering. But there should be no rules about lying about what you’re offering. The market will take care of that – people will eventually figure it out that they’ve been lied to, and they’ll go elsewhere for what they want. You’ll go broke. There’s no need for government to be involved, and that’s why Obamacare was totally unnecessary – just like the EPA and almost all the rest of government. Let the free market sort it all out.

The Ayn Rand crowd is just pissed that the few morally and ethically superior people are always pulled down and neutered by the losers in life, and the superior people, like her fictional John Galt, should simply go on strike, and then those losers would be sorry. Our current libertarians, like Rand Paul, don’t put it that way. They say they simply love freedom – so Rand Paul has some problems with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – specifically where it tells private businesses what they can and cannot do. People would do the right thing on their own, if you let them – so let them. As for those few morally and ethically superior people, Mitt Romney said there were more than a few of them – it was the morally and ethically inferior people, the forty-seven percent, who were ruining America. Everyone else was just fine, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, raised on Ayn Rand, talked about the Makers and the Takers – but he never said any of the few morally and ethically superior among us should go on strike, to show the losers how awful life would be without the Nietzschean Übermensch – to whom no rules apply, or should apply – among us. Paul Ryan was running for office, after all. Ayn Rand, a big fan of Nietzsche, would be disappointed, but she’d dead, and she never ran for office. Our current libertarians do what they can.

All of this is great fun in theory – the stuff for late night bull sessions in the college dorm room, at least in that goofy freshman year – but for society to work there must be constraints on behavior. Everyone cannot do anything they want, any time. There’d be chaos that the free-market cannot fix. Conflicts arise, and I cannot shoot you if you disagree with me, and many conflicts do have to be resolved. We have to get along to get things done, a matter of constant give and take. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, if you try real hard, you get what you need – or so the song goes. So, listen carefully, try to find areas of compromise, or at least accommodation, be honest, and smile, if you can. That always helps. You can’t always punch the other guy in the nose and be done with it. He’ll probably punch you right back. Negotiate. Everyone has to. Men and women do – that’s marriage. Work is negotiation, day in and day out. Team sports are negotiation – be a ball-hog and your team will lose. Politics is negotiation – in spite of what the Tea Party folks think – and international politics is negotiation, unless you think a decisive war in the only answer to any dispute. This requires a skillset that has nothing to do with Ayn Rand. Listen carefully, try to find areas of compromise, or at least accommodation, be honest, and smile if you can – the übermensch must be a mensch. That doesn’t imply weakness. It’s simply necessary.

Some don’t believe that. There are those who prefer dominance and submission as the model for all conflict resolution. You may not be able to punch the other guy in the nose, but you can put him in his place, so the other guy is submissive and compliant. It’s just a way of looking at this difficult world, as it’s almost reflexive:

An NRA board member and leader of the Texas State Rifle Association wrote on Wednesday that disciplining a child through corporal punishment may prevent him from “having to put a bullet in him later.”

Complaining of State Rep. Alma Allen’s (D) bill to “prohibit the use of corporal punishment in public primary and secondary schools,” NRA board member Charles Cotton took to TexasCHL Forum to vent his frustration.

“I’m sick of this woman and her ‘don’t touch my kid regardless what he/she did or will do again’ attitude,” Cotton wrote in a thread titled “HB567: Corporal punishment in schools.”

“Perhaps a good paddling in school may keep me from having to put a bullet in him later,” he added.

That’s one view of conflict resolution, and then there’s this:

A Georgia woman claimed in a lawsuit that police officers in Albany beat her so badly that she had a miscarriage.

In a complaint filed in federal court, Kenya Harris explained that she went to the Albany Police Department in May 2011 to pick up her minor son after he was arrested, according to Courthouse News.

Harris said she waited five hours for her son before informing Officers Ryan Jenkins that she needed to return home to take care of her other children.

“Defendant Officer Jenkins stated that he did not appreciate the tone in which she was communicating with him, and further stated that if she continued he would take her head and ‘put it to the floor,'” the lawsuit stated.

That’s what he did:

“Defendant Officer Jenkins, without provocation, grabbed plaintiff, who weighs less than one hundred twenty (120) pounds, by her neck and slammed her to the ground,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiff momentarily blacked out and came to with defendant Officer Jenkins sitting on her back, and with his knee on her arm. Plaintiff was pregnant at the time.”

“Defendant Officer Jenkins put handcuffs on plaintiff and slammed her against the wall. Plaintiff was placed into an interrogation room after she was beaten and handcuffed.”

Harris asked for medical attention, but officers denied the request. Instead, she was charged with obstruction, and spent one night in the Dougherty County Jail.

In the lawsuit, Harris asserted that excessive force caused her miscarriage. She also suffered injuries to her knee, neck and other areas.

Why? He didn’t like her tone. That was it. She was not submissive and he was NOT going to negotiate – and if this goes to trial, he will likely win. Juries do tend to see police work in terms of appropriate dominance and submission – as with the grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island. Citizens do not negotiate with police. They comply, or they often die, as they should, or in the case the fetus dies. It could be that Kenya Harris wasn’t spanked enough by her third grade teacher – but this will probably be settled out of court. The Albany Police Department will give Kenya Harris some money to just go away. The last thing they want is the national media coming to town, and they certainly don’t want to be the town where the discussion of appropriate dominance and submission in these matters starts up again. People understand police work or they don’t – but everyone needs to understand certain folks need to watch their tone.

In Ferguson it was Michael Brown. On Staten Island it was Eric Garner. In Chicago, in the summer of 1968, it was every hippies in site, and every young person watching the hippies – someone was going to get their head busted. Many got their head busted. And certain parties didn’t like the tone of those Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and those cartoonists and editors in Paris died. The dominant won’t be challenged, and those who should be submissive will be submissive, or they’ll die. Watch your tone.

It’s the same in international relations. We don’t like Vladimir Putin’s tone. He grabbed Crimea, then a lot of eastern Ukraine, so we slapped on economic sanctions that, along with the crash of oil prices, devastated the Russian economy, but he won’t back down. He’s still thumbing his nose at us. We slammed him to the ground and he’s still sending his folks, and their equipment, and a lot of firepower into eastern Ukraine. He was supposed to be submissive, damn it.

Ah, but there is the other conflict-resolution model. Negotiate. See if something can be worked out, so we got this:

The cease-fire accord announced in Minsk on Thursday was hailed by Secretary of State John Kerry and European leaders as a potential breakthrough that could finally bring the bitter conflict in Ukraine to an end.

But while the agreement may succeed in establishing a cease-fire by mid-February, it is likely to leave Russia and the separatists it supports holding the upper hand in eastern Ukraine for months, if not longer. That is because the accord delays the resolution of a central issue – restoring Ukraine’s control of its eastern border with Russia – and sets no deadline for the withdrawal of Russian forces, weapons and equipment from Ukraine.

“The deal likely was the best that Poroshenko could have achieved under difficult circumstances, with Russia continuing to back the separatists,” said Steven Pifer, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, referring to Petro O. Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president.

This wasn’t much, but it was something:

Germany and France said that their goal was to find a way to defuse the conflict – and avert the need for the United States to consider sending defensive weapons to the Ukrainians – by coming up with a plan for carrying out the peace agreement that was announced in Minsk in September.

That earlier accord has been regularly violated by Russia and the separatists it supports, Western officials said. So the challenge was not just to produce a cease-fire but also to find a way to make a broader agreement stick.

The approach Germany and France pursued was to negotiate a new plan with the Russians and Ukrainians, which would be implemented in stages. But as the agreement was drafted, some of the most important elements were left for the end of the implementation process.

You can’t always get what you want:

A major concern for Ukraine and its Western supporters, for example, has been restoring Ukrainian control over its border, which NATO says the Kremlin has repeatedly violated when it sent troops and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine.

“The U.S. position, all along has been that the international border in particular should not be a question that is sort of deferred further down into the implementation phase, because what we don’t want is a situation where we have a partially implemented deal that leaves that question unresolved,” a senior State Department official told reporters who were attending a security conference in Germany on Saturday. The official cannot be identified under the ground rules the department set for the briefing.

The agreement, in fact, addresses the issue. But it states that the process of restoring “full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area” is to happen by the end of 2015. And it is only to happen then if constitutional reforms that will decentralize authority to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are first carried out and local elections held.

One senior Western official, who asked not to be identified because the official was discussing internal deliberations, said the delay in restoring Ukraine’s control over the border was a major weakness in the agreement and voiced concern that the local elections could be seriously flawed if Ukraine’s border is left open for Russian agents and operatives.

There are other ambiguities, officials say. The accord calls for disarming illegal groups. But the separatists may maintain that their militias are not illegal and that therefore the provision does not apply to them.

Maybe we should have just sent in two hundred thousand troops and be done with it. Putin is doing just fine here. Perhaps his teachers never spanked him, ever, so he doesn’t know how to behave. If someone had only spanked him way back when we wouldn’t have to use a bullet on him now, and this was inevitable:

Hawkish Republicans have leaned on President Obama for the better part of a year to give weapons to Ukraine as it battles Russian-backed separatists. Now it’s members of Obama’s own party – both within Congress and from members of his own administration – that are calling on the president to arm the Ukrainians, before they lose even more territory to the Kremlin’s proxies.

On Capitol Hill there is a renewed sense of urgency: The top-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, will join with his Republican counterpart Mac Thornberry on Tuesday to present a bill that would further pressure the president to give the Ukrainian government weaponry, although legislators have yet to spell out the specifics of the bill.

And in the last week, a bevy of Democratic pols and former diplomats have said that the United States should do more.

The pressure is mounting:

Last Thursday, more than 30 House lawmakers wrote a letter urging the White House to swiftly increase military assistance. Signatories included Democratic heavyweights like Engel, Smith, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and Ukrainian Caucus co-chairs Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Sander Levin.

That same day, Democratic Sens. Harry Reed, Richard Blumenthal, Joe Donnelly, and Bill Nelson joined with Republican hawks to warn against the Russian threat to Ukraine.

“Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we have a role to play in imposing restraint… We need to see that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin understands nothing but force. He is a thug, he has not responded to sanctions,” Blumenthal said.

Nelson added, “We simply cannot let Vladimir Putin get away with invading another sovereign country.”

Here we go again, but we need to be dominant:

Democratic hawkishness may seem surprising. But since at the least the 1990s, there’s been a growing wing of liberal interventionists who believe U.S. intervention is the best resource to stop a foe; the push to intercede in Kosovo was one early example. Such advocates, most notably presumed 2016 presidential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, have more recently pushed for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.

But then there’s the other guy who believes in a different model of conflict resolution:

All the while, Obama has become more reticent to get America involved in conflicts that do not pose a direct threat to the United States, particularly after U.S. and NATO intervention in the 2011 uprising in Libya, a nation now overwhelmed with jihadis from groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Obama’s foreign-policy approach is shared by most Americans, according to several polls. The result is that many of Obama biggest critics on Ukraine reside within his own party – sometimes within his coterie of advisers.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan tries to straighten this out:

First, sending weapons to the Ukrainian military, as several U.S. senators and think-tank analysts urge, is a losing game. Unless we turn on the spigot full blast, with the aim of “prevailing” in a head-on East-West war (which would be insane for many reasons), the Russians could match each step up the ladder – and win a propaganda battle besides: Putin would be proved right that Kiev is a Western pawn, that its democratic activists are Western tools, and that further controls at home and “fraternal assistance” abroad is necessary. The Western Europeans, whose support has been vital to the politico-economic campaign against Putin’s aggression, would jump off the coalition bandwagon, to stave off the pressures for further escalation.

Besides (and I know this sounds cold), the fate of eastern Ukraine doesn’t make the list of vital U.S. security interests – that is to say, interests worth going to war for. This is one reason President Bill Clinton didn’t include Ukraine in his NATO “enlargement” campaign, which did bring Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltics into the fold, nor did President George W. Bush amend the list after mulling the pros and cons.

In the unlikely event that President Obama (or, less unlikely, a successor) decided to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, he (or she) should do so in full awareness that war with Russia would be a real possibility. The Ukrainian army would have to be trained to use these weapons – that is to say, we would need to put trainers on the ground. We’ve seen this movie before.

We may need to look at this from the other end of the telescope:

Ukraine has been integral to Russia for 1,000 years, a vital trade partner, agricultural supplier, and security buffer. Neither Putin nor any other Russian leader would sit passive while Ukraine slipped away to the Western camp – and, last year when the conflict began, Putin feared that Kiev’s new leaders were about to do just that.

This is no excuse for Putin’s annexation of Crimea or his brutal aggression in eastern Ukraine. But it helps explain his behavior (it’s not just the product of an ex-KGB man’s paranoia), and it helps predict how far he might go if pushed to the brink. Ukraine is a vital national-security interest for him, and it’s right on his border. The senators and advisers who want to intervene in the conflict directly by sending arms and advisers to Ukraine – and this group includes Obama’s new secretary of defense- need to tell us what their next move would be.

Yeah, well, we might have listened to what Putin was actually saying, which would have meant addressing the real issue here:

What Putin fears most in this whole confrontation isn’t the introduction of some Western tanks or rockets; it’s a thriving, prosperous Ukraine – it’s an example to the rest of the former Soviet republics (and to the people of eastern Ukraine, and for that matter Russia) that a better, richer life can be had under Western styles of governance and economics than under Putin’s dream of a resuscitated USSR.

So, don’t invade or even send arms:

On the military front, NATO needs to step up its commitments to its eastern member-nations, especially Poland and the Baltic states, in part to deter Putin from getting any dangerous ideas of pushing further, in part to instill confidence in all allies, and in part to demonstrate NATO’s unity – which, by the way, Putin’s actions in Ukraine have done more to solidify than anything else in the past decade. Obama has taken a few steps in this direction, but he and the other allied leaders could take more.

Above all, everyone, including McCain and his worrywart amigo Sen. Lindsey Graham, should take a breath. Putin’s a bad guy, but he’s not Hitler. The Russian army is not the Nazi Wehrmacht. Russia’s economy is in the tank; by comparison, World War II–era Germany’s was so resilient that, as late as 1943, its factories were still churning out lace and other luxury goods. 2015 is not 1939 or 1949: not remotely. But what won the Cold War can win this competition, too: patience, endurance, shrewd containment, and the example of something better just across the horizon.

What, we don’t get to slap someone around, because even more than what they’ve done, we don’t like their attitude, their tone? We listen and finally understand their issues, and in response, we do what we do, as an example of an alternative approach? We play the mensch, not the übermensch? That seems to be the general idea here. What if our police departments did that? What if we told teachers they couldn’t spank their pupils?

We’d be better off. No one seems to understand what an unusual president Obama is. But then he’ll be gone soon, and President Hillary Clinton will send in the troops, or President Jeb Bush will. We’ll revert to the norm, demanding submission, even if that never works.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Resolving Conflict Resolution

  1. Rick says:

    I myself find myself tempted to favor arming Ukraine (the threat of which, I wonder, might even be one reason Putin wants this ceasefire), even though I know this is a knee-jerk reaction on my part.

    But also, hearing anyone say, as Fred Kaplan does, above…

    the fate of eastern Ukraine doesn’t make the list of vital U.S. security interests – that is to say, interests worth going to war for…

    …can’t help but spark a memory of Munich in 1938, in which our side decided that the Sudetenland isn’t worth going to war over — and besides, Germany makes a good point about having legitimate historical claims over that part of Czechoslovakia.

    So was that just cowardice back then, or just a realistic judgement that we were not yet in a position to stop Hitler from taking it anyway? I tend to think the latter. That temporary retreat gave our side the chance to back away and prepare ourselves for the fight to come — and a fight we eventually won, we need to remember.

    This Ukraine stuff is pretty complicated, and I guess we’ll have to see what conclusion Obama settles on. I feel pretty confident that whatever he decides will be as close to what we ought to be doing as anybody else’s guess.


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