Squandering Reagan's Cold War victory
Russia is "a gas station masquerading as a country," the noted war-monger John McCain once said. This astoundingly disrespectful statement by a major U.S. political figure says much about the condescending and diplomatically destructive attitudes of U.S. elites toward Russia since 1991.
But Russia's size, vast stores of critical resources, military might (especially nukes), and tenacious cultural conservatism mean that it will be a significant force in the world for some time. The West could have benefited greatly from a peaceful integration of this enormous country into Europe, but it chose another route. More honestly, the United States chose another route.
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia intensely desired and sought acceptance by Europe and integration into the Western security system. Boris Yeltsin, even more than Peter the Great, was a Western groupie. Throughout the '90s, Russia did nothing to cause the rest of Europe to fear a possible turn to Russian expansionism. In fact, no responsible European or American had any such fears. Given all this, there was every reason for the West to welcome Russia into the Western world.
But the West, led by the United States, refused Russia's admission. Instead, it commenced a 30-year policy of gratuitously provocative military expansion toward Russia's Western border. This triumphalist policy, scathingly condemned by America's greatest diplomat and Russia expert, George Kennan, was the product of the USMIIDNeocon (United States Military Industrial Intelligence Diplomat Neocon) establishment's desire to retain a militarily significant foe, to conclusively establish the United States as the sole world superpower and, to a lesser extent, to placate ancient antipathies toward Russia.
All of this was a tragedy.
Today, the split between Russia and U.S.-dominated NATO has probably been made permanent and a new Cold War inevitable. The war that we deliberately provoked by expanding to Russia's borders and then trying to convert Ukraine into a U.S. military base assures that. The USMIIDNeocon establishment is quietly ecstatic.
The singular opportunity for a unified and peaceful Europe, from the Urals to the Atlantic, was deliberately thrown away.
The Ukraine war, ruinous on multiple levels, is not the first step in recreating a Russian empire, but a definitive statement that Russia will not tolerate in Ukraine what the United States would not tolerate in Cuba in 1962.
Russia's entire leadership, not merely Vladimir Putin, believes that Russia cannot lose the Ukraine war. It sees a Ukraine within NATO, armed to the teeth with sophisticated U.S. weaponry, as an existential threat to Russia, as President Kennedy saw a similarly armed Cuba aligned with the Soviet Union 60 years ago. What Russia will do if U.S. weapons really begin to turn the war against it is hard to predict, but it has much more destructive weapons than those it's thus far employed before it gets to nukes.
Rather than long ago embracing a generous and enduring peace, the United States after 1991 chose to gamble on imposing an American imperium on a prostrate Russia, much as the allied powers at Versailles in 1919 vindictively tried to permanently weaken Germany. Ungenerous triumphalism failed at Versailles with Germany, and since 1991, it is failing again, this time with Russia.
As Churchill, perhaps apocryphally, is said to have observed, Russia is never as strong as it looks and never as weak as it looks. The United States made a bet for an imperium, and instead got a needless and dangerous war. Rather than gaining an imperium, we lost a potentially valuable economic and military ally in our ongoing competition with the West's greatest competitor, Communist China.
And in provoking the war, and now extending it, the West is operating against its own interests — especially Europe, particularly Germany, which is beginning to sense the enormity of the self-inflicted damage its sanctions "against" Russia are causing. While higher commodity prices and new customers fill Russia's coffers, the German working and middle classes are about to be crushed economically by exploding residential gas prices and an industrial economy drastically shrunk by gas shortages.
But for the Biden administration, the United States' 30-year Russia gamble and resultant war are welcome on multiple cynical fronts: the war bleeds Russia; makes the USMIIDNeocon complex happy; greatly weakens Western Europe (mainly Germany), which increases Germany's dependence on the U.S. (and on expensive US liquefied natural gas); and distracts from its domestic catastrophes.
Ending the Ukraine war is the most urgent necessity now facing the civilized world. The threats it poses are that great.
To end the war, two truths must be acknowledged:
First, the war is the consequence not of Russian imperialistic urges, but of 30 years of needlessly provocative behavior toward Russia by the West that generated a real sense of threat among the Russian ruling elite.
Second, given that sense of threat, Russia perceives that it cannot lose this war. It almost certainly possesses the means to see that it does not. Hence, the more weapons we supply to Ukraine, the longer (and more destructively) the war goes on, and the greater the risks.
However and whenever this war ends, a new Cold War seems inevitable. The opportunity for a stable and durable peace has already been squandered by the ungenerous and triumphalist conduct of the USMIIDNeocon complex.
But if we recognize honestly why the war happened, and move to end it promptly, as the amazingly still prescient Henry Kissinger urged at Davos, we may be able to avert its most horrific possible consequences. And — though this may be too much to hope for — we might be able to slowly back away from a gross mistake the West made during the 1990s.
Map credit: TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0 license.