On War #283: The Russian Imperative

By William S. Lind
November 17, 2008

The arriving Obama administration will be handed not merely a can of worms but a bucket of asps. Somewhere, I suspect the ghost of Herbert Hoover is smiling. The inherited foreign policy problems are no less daunting than the economic mess. But on the latter front, there is at least one piece of good news. It may be possible to set the U.S. – Russian relationship on a new course.

America’s failure to reintegrate post-Communist Russia into the concert of powers was a strategic blunder of the first order. The threat from the global south, manifested most powerfully by invasion by immigration but also evident in many other ways, can only be met by a united global north. Russia holds the West’s vast eastern flank, which stretches all the way from the Black Sea to Vladivostok. Were that flank to collapse, as Russia came close to doing in the early 1990s, the West’s geo-strategic position would become well-nigh hopeless.

Despite this strategic reality, evident to anyone who can read a map, Republican and Democratic administrations have vied to determine which could more effectively humiliate and alienate Russia. The Clinton administration probably won that contest with its inane war on Serbia, Russia’s historic ally. Bush II’s subsequent efforts to enlarge NATO and insistence on locating anti-missile defenses in eastern Europe were additional sticks in the Kremlin’s eye. The only reason for any of it was great power hubris, of the sort which littered the 20th century with wreckage. Regrettably, the Washington Establishment is as prideful as it is short-sighted.

Until last week, I would have said that the U.S. had damaged the prospects for an American-Russian entente beyond repair. But to the West’s potential good fortune, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has now signaled otherwise. According to the November 14 Financial Times, speaking shortly before his trip to Washington to a group of Russian and European business leaders, President Medvedev said that Russia could develop “neighborly and partnership-based relations with the U.S.” In Washington for the Group of 20 meeting, he repeated the message. The November 16 Washington Post quoted him as saying, “I think we can create in principle a new framework…a partnership between the U.S. and Russia.”

Responding to a question before the Council on Foreign Relations, Medvedev sent the message yet again. According to the Post, he said, “In my state of the nation address, I mentioned that Russia has no anti-Americanism, but there are some difficulties in understanding each other. We would like to overcome this with the new administration.”

It is imperative that the Obama administration respond positively to this diplomatic opening. After eight years of alienating friends and making more enemies, America is in dire need of fewer enemies and more friends. Russia could be a valuable friend indeed, diplomatically, militarily and economically.

Medvedev offered tantalizing hints about how the issue of missile defense might be handled. Again quoting the Post, he said, “But to my mind we have good opportunities to solve this problem … to agree either on a global system of protection against rogue states … or to find ways out in terms of programs existing already.” Russian anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense technology is a least as good as our own, maybe better. If the Obama administration is serious about missile defense for Europe, it can be provided far better by working with Russia than by threatening Russia.

Even more significantly, when Medvedev was asked before the CFR about the possibility of Russia joining NATO, he said, “There is a good phrase – never say never.” Since the fall of Communism, NATO has had no real reason to exist. But if Russia joined NATO, NATO would become what the West needs most, an alliance of the global north. This is a lead both the Obama administration and the European members of NATO should pursue avidly.

With all the old Clintonistas moving straight into the new Obama administration, there is not much hope for change. But perhaps even they can see that America is not wise to turn all the world into its enemy. That was Germany’s fatal blunder in both world wars. The Russians have opened the door to at least a normal relationship, perhaps much more. This time, let’s not slam it in their face.

P.S: There will be no On War column Thanksgiving week.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
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Alexandria, Virginia 22314
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