Those who follow statements from the U.S. foreign policy establishment and mainstream media often hear that the main reason for the current crisis in U.S.-Russian relations has little to do with conventional geopolitics. Rather, our problems with Moscow is its desire to “discredit democracy,” as stated in the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy released in December.
In addition, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats, led by Ben Cardin of Maryland, recently issued a 200-page report accusing Russia of wanting “to bring down our way of government” and for “corruption to reign.”
Those who wrote the National Security Strategy and Mr. Cardin’s report probably missed the recent research by Transparency International stating that according to U.S. public opinion, 38 percent of members of Congress and 33 percent of government officials are corrupt. The authors probably also missed the statement by Newt Gingrich, former House speaker, that “all of us are learning some pretty horrifying things about how sick the system is, how sick the entire process is, in a way I would have thought were impossible.”
Still, the establishment insists that our problem with President Vladimir Putin lies in the difference in values, i.e. the difference between the Western commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights versus an authoritarian and corrupt Russian system.
Likewise, Mr. Putin not only makes the life of his people miserable but also represents a direct threat to us. Therefore, not only moral duty but also U.S. security demand that we “promote democracy” in Russia while ignoring the objections of those who see this as a direct interference in their internal affairs — in fact, a mirror image of what Moscow is accused of doing to our 2016 presidential election.
Contrast that perspective with what Donald Trump said both as a candidate and following his victory concerning the benefits of improving relations with Russia. From that viewpoint, what is important is not necessarily sharing values but cooperation where our interests coincide.
Mr. Trump has faithfully stuck to his line that better ties with Moscow would be good for the United States despite the frantic efforts of those he called in a tweet “haters and fools” to prevent it. This in the face of the relentless Russiagate witch hunt designed to bring down him and his administration, under which a lesser statesman would long since have reversed course.
Still, while Mr. Trump’s sincere desire for reconciliation evidently remains, there has been no actual progress — quite the contrary. Opposed by a bipartisan supermajority in Congress, his hands are tied. The president’s Republican occasional allies (for example, on tax reform) and intractable Democrat foes vie with each other in their anti-Russia stridency.
It seems there is no one in the administration who actually agrees with the president on this critical matter. Mr. Trump evidently has little input into specific actions, leaving the job to his team of generals and neoconservatives.
The upshot is that relations between the only two powers capable of destroying not only each other but also the planet will continue to degrade.
Providing lethal weapons to Ukraine — which will entail American advisers on the ground near the conflict line in the Donbas — moves us closer to military confrontation.
We are nearing the abyss, and at this point it looks like no one knows how to avert the looming disaster or even wants to. The only acceptable outcome, it seems, is Moscow’s capitulation on matters it deems vital national interests (certainly more vital than any genuine American interest in Ukraine and Syria) or, if our oh-so-democratic meddling goes well, regime change in Russia.
Neither will happen. What is likely, indeed almost certain if we continue down this path, are first a formalized Russia-China alliance and then, probably based on someone’s miscalculation, a war the destructiveness of which is literally beyond our comprehension.
It’s dangerously past time to admit that Trump is right and his critics on Capitol Hill and their collaborators in his administration are wrong. It’s time to put America First, not only rhetorically but also in terms of policy. No more NATO expansion and provocative maneuvers on Russia’s borders.
Let Europe worry about Ukraine and Crimea. The countries that are located in northwest Asia — Russia, China, Japan and South Korea — are capable of figuring out what to do about “Little Rocket Man” and his nukes.
For those who have dedicated their fat careers to the notion of a unipolar, U.S.-run world, it will come as an unpleasant wake-up call that Washington won’t any longer decide the fate of every square inch of the planet. We’ve had our Monroe Doctrine for almost 200 years, yet we insist nobody else can have one.
Instead of continuing our cruise toward conflict, we need to cooperate with other major players, including Russia and China, on matters of common concern, of which there are many. But we’d better start very soon.
⦁ Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.
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