Who Lost Russia?
I am of severely mixed minds about Tom Friedman’s column today about the boneheadedness of Russian, Georgian, and U. S. leadership:
If the conflict in Georgia were an Olympic event, the gold medal for brutish stupidity would go to the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin. The silver medal for bone-headed recklessness would go to Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and the bronze medal for rank short-sightedness would go to the Clinton and Bush foreign policy teams.
I definitely agree that we missed crucial opportunities during the Clinton Administration to build a constructive relationship with Russia:
All of this was especially true because, we argued, there was no big problem on the world stage that we could effectively address without Russia — particularly Iran or Iraq. Russia wasn’t about to reinvade Europe. And the Eastern Europeans would be integrated into the West via membership in the European Union.
No, said the Clinton foreign policy team, we’re going to cram NATO expansion down the Russians’ throats, because Moscow is weak and, by the way, they’ll get used to it. Message to Russians: We expect you to behave like Western democrats, but we’re going to treat you like you’re still the Soviet Union. The cold war is over for you, but not for us.
Is Russia, as Michael Mandelbaum, quoted in the column puts it (pooh-poohing the idea), “innately aggressive”? I don’t think so. But I do think that, like us, Russia is quite paranoid. Or, as Woody Allen once quipped, what’s a three syllable word beginning with ‘P’ that means you think that everybody’s against you? Answer: perceptive.
I don’t think that Russia is going to abandon the foreign policy objectives of centuries at the drop of a hat. Or a wall. That Russia remains a big, powerful country with a big, powerful military and, arguably, the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and interests of its own that may not be in line with ours is simply a fact of life.
I do think that we could have done better than the Clinton Administration did which IMO was to go out of their way to antagonize Russia, put too much stock in a single person, i.e. Boris Yeltsin, and utterly misunderstand the institutions that existed in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union on which a society could be based. The Bush Administration has largely gone along, fat, dumb, and happy, with the policies pursued by the Clinton Administration, only the single person in whom too much stock was placed was Vladimir Putin.
Well, we’ve got to deal with the Russia we have rather than the Russia we might want and we’ve got at least 17 years of mismanagement to start making up for. In a much poorer international climate.