PARIS -- For the latest example of Russia's "long game" in its worldwide competition against Western interests, look no further than how Russia is handling the matter of Greece and its endless financial woes. And if Russia ultimately wins, we in the West have only ourselves to blame.
Since at least 2009, Greece has been drowning in debt, clinging to the European taxpayer for successive bailouts. As every lifeguard knows, when a drowning swimmer is trying to take you down with him during the rescue, you must cut him loose and save yourself first. This lesson is lost on Europe when it comes to Greece.
The check has now come due -- literally. Greece is obligated to rummage under the couch cushions to come up with 1.5 billion euros to repay the International Monetary Fund by month's end, despite having a debt of around 180 percent its GDP. To paraphrase former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who opposed the idea of a eurozone fiscal straitjacket from the outset, Greece has long since run out of other people's money to spend.
Enter Russia. The centerpiece nation of the former Soviet Union could reap major benefits from the West's shift from limited-government, free-market capitalism toward nanny-state socialism. Ironically, Russia can improve its own position by offering Greece a more capitalist alternative.
Last week in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a deal with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to route the Turkish Stream pipeline through Greece to deliver gas from Russia to Europe. Running under the Black Sea and through Greece, the pipeline, due to be completed in December 2016, would provide Greece with income from transit fees -- up to 500 million euros a year, a Greek government official told Bloomberg.
In contrast, Europe's plan is to keep throwing more money at the Greek problem, despite an IMF report last year noting a 25 percent productivity decrease in Greece since 2007 and an unemployment rate of 26.5 percent. Europe is offering Greece nothing other than increased dependency on European taxpayers. Russia is offering a capitalist solution to a perpetual socialist imposition.
No sane person fears that Russia is going to make a military sweep across Europe and impose communist ideology. Aside from the fact that Russia is no longer communist, global competition between Russia and the West has shifted to strictly economic footing. And Russia isn't the only potential benefactor seeking to exploit economic vulnerabilities in the West brought about by socialism. As Greece is left with little choice but to sell off its cumbersome state assets, China is poised to be a prime buyer with the requisite deep pockets. It's the "Chinese acupuncture strategy," as a French air force general recently explained to me. China doesn't need to strike everywhere to score an overall win -- just surgically, at well-selected strategic points.
The question that we should be asking ourselves here in the West is why Russia is beating us at our own game: capitalism. Why are we still talking about military intervention and "training" in countries such as Ukraine and Iraq when we should really be talking about long-term economic engagement as the way toward a solution.
We need to take a hard look at whether our intervention in such cases exists solely as a means of perpetuating a nanny-state military-industrial complex that thrives on perpetual conflict in exactly the same way that social justice groups thrive on the "war on poverty" never being won.
If we aren't going to resolve the Greek debt crisis with a sustainable capitalist solution, then we have no right to be defensive when Russia comes to the table with one.
The ultimate result may be that Greece falls into the Russian sphere of influence -- but what do we expect? The normal outcome of capitalism is freedom to make such choices. Instead, the West has bought into the old socialist myth of maintaining control through dependence. It should have known better. That only works as long as there isn't a more freedom-oriented alternative. If Putin understands one thing from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it has to be that.
A declassified document from Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee suggests that Russia regards Greece to be in Britain's sphere of influence, but that "if (Russia) aspired to play a leading role in the Mediterranean, (Russia) would probably wish as a first step to get Greece and the Aegean Islands under (its) control, direct or indirect." The document was from 1944.
Russia has had to wait a long time for the West to screw up capitalism badly enough that Russia can exploit it.