Thomas Jefferson and Alexander I of Russia had a warm relationship that strengthened America as a nation. Find out more on Monticello's website.
"We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country..."
-- President Thomas Jefferson
The US foreign policy establishment tirelessly propagates a false narrative about Vladimir Putin as a ruthless autocrat who stole the recent State Duma elections, and strives morning, noon and night to revive the old Soviet Union. The language used even by high-ranking US diplomats is sometimes scarcely distinguishable from name-calling. In view of Putin's high ratings among the Russian electorate -- approaching 60% and rising -- one wonders how we are going to manage our relationship with Russia after March 4th when it is widely expected that Putin will almost certainly return to the Kremlin.
The same members of our bipartisan establishment who denounce Putin for his alleged autocratic ways cheered Boris Yeltsin to the rafters when he shelled Russia's legitimately elected parliament into submission, imposed a presidential constitution on the nation (in a Leninist-style revolution from above), ruled by decree, and stole the 1996 presidential election outright with the help of crony oligarchs.
Our foreign policy elite has it in for Putin -- not because they doubt his democratic credentials but because he refuses to allow his country to be dragooned into Washington's stable of compliant states.
His skepticism about Russia's prospects under pax Americana is certainly justified: he is well aware of the dismal results of our "color revolutions" in post-Soviet space. In the Middle East, our interventionism in the name of democracy and "progress" has fomented Sharia law, anti-Christian violence and the diminution of the status of women. Ironically, whereas "democratic" Egypt arrested members of the International Republican Institute (IRI) for promoting democracy, in "autocratic" Russia both IRI and National Democratic Institute (NDI) operate freely.
Our "progressive" elite is playing with fire. We risk blowback on a variety of fronts for our ceaseless interventionism in an ever-expanding number of countries and regions. To make matters worse, we are on the verge of fiscal collapse from our simultaneous pursuit of welfare at home and strategic dominance abroad.
In this spirit, Secretary of State Clinton branded the State Duma elections of last December 4th as "neither free nor fair" even before the election was over and the votes counted.
There is another possible narrative about the Duma elections:
- For the first time in Russian history, a ruling party was rebuked at the polls, effectively losing the election.
- Despite clear evidence of ballot stuffing, the final result conformed broadly to exit and pre-election polls.
- Authorities permitted massive public protests against the results, which were covered live on national television - hardly the stuff of autocracy.
Time for a new narrative about Russia and Putin that corresponds to reality:
- Reagan and Gorbachev worked to end the Cold War so that Russia could free itself from the depredations of Communism, and rejoin the pan-European family of nations in a new entente spanning the Northern Hemisphere.
- Russia's transition away from totalitarianism has been slow and painful, but it proceeds apace.
- Putin, whatever his faults, has done much to restore his nation to peace, prosperity and normalcy -- just as Adenauer and De Gasperi did after the collapse of totalitarianism in Germany and Italy, respectively.
It is time for America to embrace Russia as a worthy and reliable strategic partner in meeting the challenge posed by a rising China and resurgent Islamic extremism. We should also honor our longstanding promise to lift Jackson-Vanik trade discrimination against Russia, which President Obama could accomplish without the vote in Congress with the stroke of a pen.
It may seem a pipedream that moderation and realism should come to guide US foreign policy after a long hiatus, but hard fiscal realities may soon give us little choice. US indebtedness is now quickly approaching the mind-boggling sum of $16 trillion -- well over 100% of GDP -- putting us in the same neighborhood as Greece (compared, incidentally, to Russia's 11%).
If our leaders were guided by the classical virtues of justice, prudence, magnanimity and love of country they would have long since ditched our destructive and costly bid for global dominance. Only dire economic realities, it would seem, are capable of forcing their hand.
The leaders of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s failed to heed the warning bells set off by overextension, stagnation and economic decline, and were unceremoniously swept away. May our leaders, beset by the same kinds of dangers today, come to grips with the stark realities facing us before it is too late.
James George Jatras is the former Foreign Policy Analyst, U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow and Professor of the Department of World Politics at the Moscow State University.
Anthony T. Salvia is the former Special Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs (appointee of President Ronald Reagan)