Ally with Russia Against Islamists? Not so Fast

Remember realpolitik? In modern America, it’s most associated with Henry Kissinger. The dictionaries say it’s an approach to foreign affairs and national security that’s “based on a country's situation and its needs rather than on ideas about what is morally right and wrong.”

The U.S. and Russia face existential threats from militant Islam. The West in general does. When threats become “existential,” ideals and ethics become -- shall we say -- more pliable. They don’t become disposable, however. An entente with the Russians to suppress militant Islam makes sense, yet it doesn’t come without strings. There are perils. 

A de facto American-Russian alliance mustn’t come without the U.S. sharply defining value. Realpolitik dictates that U.S. interests are preeminent -- and they’re global. Whatever advantages Russia extracts from an entente, the U.S. must seek to extract more and better. While the U.S. must keep its eye on the immediate Islamic threat, it must look to its interests elsewhere in the world and look past the horizon. How smartly positioned will the U.S. be in a “postwar” world?  And has the U.S. succeeded without forsaking its character?

Writing for American Thinker, Alexander Maistrovoy and Ted Belman posited this -- frankly astonishing -- notion about an American-Russian alliance:

Until the fall of the USSR, the 20th Century was dominated by an ideological struggle between American capitalism and Russian communism. But now that Russia has abandoned communism and the US is embracing socialism, as seen by the Sanders’s victory in the New Hampshire primary, the two powers are more alike than ever before. [Italics added]

The writers are too facile about a U.S. embrace of socialism. The struggle is on here; the issue is far from settled. The writers suggest that an American-Russian alliance is predicated on a convergence, political and moral. It’s a chilling prospect if the U.S. is stepping away from liberty under God, and that then permits it a basis for an entente with Russia. An alliance with Russia must mostly exclusively rest on U.S. interests.

Realpolitik insists that the U.S. not be blinkered. Putin is a bad player. He’s a former KGB thug. He’s dispatched political opponents with the ease of a mafia don. He’s an oligarch; corruption is rife in Russia. Putin desires to recreate the Soviet Empire sans totalitarianism (but not authoritarianism). Make no mistake, in Eastern Europe that means Russian expansion undermines liberty and nationhood. Putin wants access to the Mediterranean for his warships.      

Know your enemies? Know your allies. Assessing -- and accepting -- Putin for what he is and what his aims are doesn’t preclude entente. The U.S. won’t help itself by creating a fiction: “Uncle Vlad” is no more suitable than was “Uncle Joe” Stalin. Taking the measure of the man and his intentions (and those of his likely successors) allows a more precise alignment of policy with reality. That can only well serve U.S. interests.              

An entente with Russia doesn’t require that the U.S. acquiesce to Putin’s machinations and predation. The Russians, after all, face a more immediate existential threat from Islamic militancy than does the U.S. Russia is vulnerable to Islamic unrest and insurgencies among Muslim peoples along its southern flank. (Western Europe is also more directly menaced by the Islamic threat, thanks to the importation of millions of Muslims since the 1960s. Frau Merkel’s admittance of a million -- mostly male -- Syrian refugees last year has made matters worse.)

The U.S. has strong cards to play in forging the terms of greater cooperation with the Russians. U.S. interests aren’t served by Russian expansion westward, nor are its interests benefited by Russia gaining a longer term hold in the Eastern Mediterranean. The goal is to wage a successful fight with Russia’s cooperation against insurgent Islam while stymieing Russia’s efforts at hegemony. This is statecraft at its most complex and challenging.

Ali Hashem, a columnist for Al-Monitor, in an analysis carried by U.S. News & World Report, concluded:

The source added, "The Russians are here to win the war, this is what everyone knows. Russia's war isn't only in Syria; it's a war for a serious international role. If they succeed here, then they are going to have decision-making power in Syria and other issues in the Middle East. And this means that their influence will be stronger than any change in the country's leadership."      

The option in the Middle East isn’t ceding Russia a dominant role or allowing militant Islam to prevail. It’s to induce Russia to act in concert with the U.S. against militant Islam to better safeguard its own territorial integrity. There are other inducements, of course -- economic, chiefly, though economic inducements to partner with the U.S. must also mean that Russia subordinates its designs on Eastern Europe, principally.    

The U.S. shouldn’t be in the business of making the world safe for democracy. America needs to close shop on ousting dictators who are otherwise friendly to American interests (or, at least, pose no threat.) Mubarak comes to mind. Nor should the U.S. sink sweat, blood, and treasure into nation-building. Yet the U.S. mustn’t accept or assist -- openly or tacitly -- the subjugation of nations and the subversion of liberty to maintain an alliance with Russia. Having a common enemy with Russia, and having the imperative to defeat that enemy, doesn’t translate to accepting or enabling Russia’s territorial designs or allowing it to intimidate nations’ into submission.     

Moreover, Russia must be persuaded that the U.S. is capable of finding alignments in the Muslim world that offers no advantages in solving the “Muslim problem” on its southern flanks. How much of Afghanistan do the Russians care to revisit within their borders? 

Yes, this can be a double-edged sword, in that the Russians could find ways of facilitating Muslim insurgencies against the U.S. and its interests. Further assisting Iran in surreptitious development of nuclear weapons would work crosswise U.S. interests, for example. But let’s go on the premise that Russia needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Russia. A couple of words sum it up: “military might.”

Barack Obama has diminished the American military during his two terms in office. The navy – a primary means of American power-projection across the globe -- has been hard hit by about a trillion dollars in Defense Department cuts. The next president, if Republican, has the task of rebuilding American military power. The less the U.S. needs to rely on others for its security -- especially the Russians -- the better. 

At the minimum, the perception of a re-equipping and rearming U.S. military plays to America’s advantage in its dealings with the Russians (and not incidentally, the Chinese). It’s no stereotyping to say that Russians respect strength. Russia must calculate that in the fight against militant Islam, it gains more from an alignment with a militarily resurgent U.S. even if it must subordinate its desire for greater hegemony. The critical stress-point for the Russians must be homeland integrity.

The ongoing fight against militant Islam takes more than guns. Victory certainly is about more than fighter jets. The fight with militant Islam is an epic clash of ideologies, culture, and religion. 

Winning for the U.S. against militant Islam comes with the confident assertion of the nation’s commitment to liberty under God. It comes through smart prioritization of national interests and their unswerving pursuit. It calls for realistic and shrewd applications of power. It calls for alliances -- formal and informal -- that advance U.S. interests while minimizing the potential for damage to the nation’s longer term interests through ill-considered understandings and accords. Russia is the prime example. 

Remember realpolitik? In modern America, it’s most associated with Henry Kissinger. The dictionaries say it’s an approach to foreign affairs and national security that’s “based on a country's situation and its needs rather than on ideas about what is morally right and wrong.”

The U.S. and Russia face existential threats from militant Islam. The West in general does. When threats become “existential,” ideals and ethics become -- shall we say -- more pliable. They don’t become disposable, however. An entente with the Russians to suppress militant Islam makes sense, yet it doesn’t come without strings. There are perils. 

A de facto American-Russian alliance mustn’t come without the U.S. sharply defining value. Realpolitik dictates that U.S. interests are preeminent -- and they’re global. Whatever advantages Russia extracts from an entente, the U.S. must seek to extract more and better. While the U.S. must keep its eye on the immediate Islamic threat, it must look to its interests elsewhere in the world and look past the horizon. How smartly positioned will the U.S. be in a “postwar” world?  And has the U.S. succeeded without forsaking its character?

Writing for American Thinker, Alexander Maistrovoy and Ted Belman posited this -- frankly astonishing -- notion about an American-Russian alliance:

Until the fall of the USSR, the 20th Century was dominated by an ideological struggle between American capitalism and Russian communism. But now that Russia has abandoned communism and the US is embracing socialism, as seen by the Sanders’s victory in the New Hampshire primary, the two powers are more alike than ever before. [Italics added]

The writers are too facile about a U.S. embrace of socialism. The struggle is on here; the issue is far from settled. The writers suggest that an American-Russian alliance is predicated on a convergence, political and moral. It’s a chilling prospect if the U.S. is stepping away from liberty under God, and that then permits it a basis for an entente with Russia. An alliance with Russia must mostly exclusively rest on U.S. interests.

Realpolitik insists that the U.S. not be blinkered. Putin is a bad player. He’s a former KGB thug. He’s dispatched political opponents with the ease of a mafia don. He’s an oligarch; corruption is rife in Russia. Putin desires to recreate the Soviet Empire sans totalitarianism (but not authoritarianism). Make no mistake, in Eastern Europe that means Russian expansion undermines liberty and nationhood. Putin wants access to the Mediterranean for his warships.      

Know your enemies? Know your allies. Assessing -- and accepting -- Putin for what he is and what his aims are doesn’t preclude entente. The U.S. won’t help itself by creating a fiction: “Uncle Vlad” is no more suitable than was “Uncle Joe” Stalin. Taking the measure of the man and his intentions (and those of his likely successors) allows a more precise alignment of policy with reality. That can only well serve U.S. interests.              

An entente with Russia doesn’t require that the U.S. acquiesce to Putin’s machinations and predation. The Russians, after all, face a more immediate existential threat from Islamic militancy than does the U.S. Russia is vulnerable to Islamic unrest and insurgencies among Muslim peoples along its southern flank. (Western Europe is also more directly menaced by the Islamic threat, thanks to the importation of millions of Muslims since the 1960s. Frau Merkel’s admittance of a million -- mostly male -- Syrian refugees last year has made matters worse.)

The U.S. has strong cards to play in forging the terms of greater cooperation with the Russians. U.S. interests aren’t served by Russian expansion westward, nor are its interests benefited by Russia gaining a longer term hold in the Eastern Mediterranean. The goal is to wage a successful fight with Russia’s cooperation against insurgent Islam while stymieing Russia’s efforts at hegemony. This is statecraft at its most complex and challenging.

Ali Hashem, a columnist for Al-Monitor, in an analysis carried by U.S. News & World Report, concluded:

The source added, "The Russians are here to win the war, this is what everyone knows. Russia's war isn't only in Syria; it's a war for a serious international role. If they succeed here, then they are going to have decision-making power in Syria and other issues in the Middle East. And this means that their influence will be stronger than any change in the country's leadership."      

The option in the Middle East isn’t ceding Russia a dominant role or allowing militant Islam to prevail. It’s to induce Russia to act in concert with the U.S. against militant Islam to better safeguard its own territorial integrity. There are other inducements, of course -- economic, chiefly, though economic inducements to partner with the U.S. must also mean that Russia subordinates its designs on Eastern Europe, principally.    

The U.S. shouldn’t be in the business of making the world safe for democracy. America needs to close shop on ousting dictators who are otherwise friendly to American interests (or, at least, pose no threat.) Mubarak comes to mind. Nor should the U.S. sink sweat, blood, and treasure into nation-building. Yet the U.S. mustn’t accept or assist -- openly or tacitly -- the subjugation of nations and the subversion of liberty to maintain an alliance with Russia. Having a common enemy with Russia, and having the imperative to defeat that enemy, doesn’t translate to accepting or enabling Russia’s territorial designs or allowing it to intimidate nations’ into submission.     

Moreover, Russia must be persuaded that the U.S. is capable of finding alignments in the Muslim world that offers no advantages in solving the “Muslim problem” on its southern flanks. How much of Afghanistan do the Russians care to revisit within their borders? 

Yes, this can be a double-edged sword, in that the Russians could find ways of facilitating Muslim insurgencies against the U.S. and its interests. Further assisting Iran in surreptitious development of nuclear weapons would work crosswise U.S. interests, for example. But let’s go on the premise that Russia needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Russia. A couple of words sum it up: “military might.”

Barack Obama has diminished the American military during his two terms in office. The navy – a primary means of American power-projection across the globe -- has been hard hit by about a trillion dollars in Defense Department cuts. The next president, if Republican, has the task of rebuilding American military power. The less the U.S. needs to rely on others for its security -- especially the Russians -- the better. 

At the minimum, the perception of a re-equipping and rearming U.S. military plays to America’s advantage in its dealings with the Russians (and not incidentally, the Chinese). It’s no stereotyping to say that Russians respect strength. Russia must calculate that in the fight against militant Islam, it gains more from an alignment with a militarily resurgent U.S. even if it must subordinate its desire for greater hegemony. The critical stress-point for the Russians must be homeland integrity.

The ongoing fight against militant Islam takes more than guns. Victory certainly is about more than fighter jets. The fight with militant Islam is an epic clash of ideologies, culture, and religion. 

Winning for the U.S. against militant Islam comes with the confident assertion of the nation’s commitment to liberty under God. It comes through smart prioritization of national interests and their unswerving pursuit. It calls for realistic and shrewd applications of power. It calls for alliances -- formal and informal -- that advance U.S. interests while minimizing the potential for damage to the nation’s longer term interests through ill-considered understandings and accords. Russia is the prime example.