A Call for a New Republican Approach to Moscow
Two decades after the fall of Communism, Ronald Reagan is as popular as ever. Praise for Reagan is routine on the right, but also emanates from the center and not infrequently from the left. This broad appreciation of Reagan is usually bound up with his deft handling of the Cold War's denouement, and yet not a few of his admirers are motivated by a Russophobia Reagan would have found alien. Thus, they wind up undermining his legacy, whether inadvertently or not.
Those who consider themselves admirers of Ronald Reagan, and we count ourselves among their number, should support the deepening of President Obama's reset with Russia under the next Republican administration, which we hope will take office on January 20, 2013, and not a resumption of the efforts of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to strategically encircle Russia.
The conservative Heritage Foundation recently mounted a conference intended to undermine support for the reset. Speaker after speaker paid ritual obeisance to Ronald Reagan while advocating an approach to US-Russian relations that differed markedly from the one Reagan took in the waning days of the Cold War to such beneficent effect.
This came as no surprise:
We remember in the late Reagan years how not a few of the president's supporters read him out of the Conservative Movement for the sin of concluding the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty with the USSR.
We remember how they excoriated him for declaring the Cold War a thing of the past while strolling arm-in-arm with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev through Red Square.
We remember how they demanded his head for offering to share missile defense technology with Moscow (then still Red Moscow) because he saw the merit in the Soviets' argument that the unilateral deployment of an ABM system would upset the strategic balance.
Reagan objected to Communism, not Russia as such.
Reagan objected to Communism, which he saw as morally unacceptable and the root cause of the Cold War, not Russia as such. It was peace he cherished and longed for, a world stepped back from the brink, shorn of ideology, restored to normalcy, and, thereby, to the prospect of a new pan-hemispheric entente embracing Europe, Russia and the United States.
One would think conservative Republicans, inhabiting an America on the cusp of insolvency, unable (unwilling?) to extricate itself from several wars of choice (none of them vital to national security, all of them tending, rather, to undermine it), facing rising Chinese economic and military power, and beset by crisis on its Mexican border, would see the prudence in Reagan's approach to the Soviet Union, and wish to adapt it to today's Russia, a country replete with flaws, but non-Communist and in full national and spiritual revival--the Russia Reagan helped bring about.
So one would think, but one would be wrong. For many conservatives at the recent Heritage Foundation conference:
- Russia is playing "neo-imperialist games" (that's rich in view of our own striving for global strategic dominance);
- Russia is "going in the wrong direction" (i.e., refuses to blindly acquiesce to US diktat);
- Russia's "sphere of influence is cause for concern" (yet none of them suggested the US withdraw from Korea or Germany, rescind the Monroe Doctrine, or dissolve its Middle Eastern Raj);
- Russia's energy policies are "politically motivated" (quite unlike ours, of course);
- Russia's economy is "statist," whereas ours is "liberal" (that would be news to central-economic-planner-in-chief Ben Bernanke);
- Russia's political system evinces "Soviet-style power and influence" (an accusation no more plausible than the one made by demonstrators in the streets of Athens who insist that Germany's dictation of economic terms to Greece indicates a restoration of Nazi-style power and influence in Berlin.)
For one of the Heritage conferees, Russia is not a "reliable partner." But it was Washington that unilaterally abrogated the ABM treaty, seen in Moscow as vital to its capacity to deter attack; it was Washington (under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) that reneged on President George H. W. Bush's pledge to Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO eastward (except to absorb the German Democratic Republic); it was Washington that betrayed Moscow when, in instigating and then recognizing Kosovo's so-called independence from Serbia (Russia's close ally), it flagrantly violated UN Resolution 1244 calling for the self-administration of Kosovo within Serbia.
Although US policy towards post-Soviet Russia (until the reset) amounted to little more than a skein of provocations, Moscow acted repeatedly in ways beneficial to the United States: it supported US efforts to win support for the first Gulf War at the United Nations, acquiesced in the break up of the former USSR; accepted (however reluctantly) the absorption of the East European and the Baltic States into NATO; and spared the Alliance the pain and humiliation of having to introduce ground troops in Yugoslavia by abandoning Milosevic at the last minute.
Vladimir Putin emerged as Washington's staunchest ally in the immediate wake of the September 11th atrocities
The Kremlin's pro-Western line culminated in Vladimir Putin's emergence as Washington's staunchest ally in the immediate wake of the September 11th atrocities. Russian intelligence-sharing proved invaluable, and its support for the Northern Alliance prescient compared to Washington's misguided pre-September 11th policy of benign neutrality towards the Taliban.
Since the dissolution of the USSR, Moscow has provided important, and sometimes crucial, support to the West during times of international crisis
Since the dissolution of the USSR, Moscow has provided important, and sometimes crucial, support to the West during times of international crisis (sometimes even contrary to Russia's own interests and better judgment, as in the cases of Kosovo and Libya.)
What did Russia get in return? Until the reset, nothing--just lectures on democracy from a country that embraces such sterling examples of Jeffersonian political rectitude as Georgia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the absolute denial of Russia's right to have, much less defend, vital security interests along its borders, and efforts to deploy a new missile system on Russia's doorstep, ostensibly aimed at Iran.
Sadly, Washington is not in the habit of reciprocating. It takes but it never gives. It offers Russia one of two options, both unpalatable from Moscow's point of view: content yourself with satellite status, or we will consider you a sworn enemy, a fit candidate for encirclement.
We believe President Reagan would have offered another option--that of partner, and even of friend.
Would a US-Russian strategic partnership be a good thing? How would it benefit the United States and the world? How should US leaders approach Russia in the likely event Vladimir Putin returns to the presidency?
We will address these matters in a new commentary in the near future. Watch this space.
The article is co-authored by James George Jatras, former Foreign Policy Analyst, US Senate Republican Policy Committee, former US Foreign Service Officer, Edward D. Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow and Political Professor of the Moscow State University, and Anthony T. Salvia, former Special Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (appointee of President Ronald Reagan).