Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Strobe Talbott on Russia’s New Doctrine

...which he calls ominous. Russia is deliberately echoing the language the U.S. and NATO used in its 1999 campaign against Serbia--genocide and ethnic cleansing--to describe the alleged war crimes of the Georgians. From the Russian view, it’s payback time, although the analogy really turns history upside down.

Most ominous about this new policy is its aim to undermine the statesmanship of Yeltsin, who converted inter-republic boundaries into international ones to check the aggressiveness of Russian communists and nationalists. His choice not to create a Greater Russia fended off what might have been disastrous ethnic conflict.

But now Russia might be heading in that "greater" direction, with its new intention to disregard the permanence of the borders established in the 1990s.

Discussions - 15 Comments

Strobe was articulate and plausible yesterday on C-Span. But so are (is?) any number of other experts we're hearing and reading these days. We non-experts individually have to make our way through the reports and fog of war; probably intellectual modesty is in order. You're doing a good job posting good material, Peter, to help us on many fronts (information, punditry, and Socratic knowledge of ignorance). Thanks.

Thanks, Paul, for the classy compliment, which leads me to repeat my disclaimer that I don't necessarily agree with what I post. For example, I'm still on the fence on whether Olympic women's gymnastics is creepy. I don't think many Russians share my real praise of Yelsin's heroic--if not very competent and apparently futile--efforts on behalf of "liberal democracy." But there's no need for us Americans to indulge Russian nationalism, at least in speech. The constant presence of highly authoritarian and not particularly ideological Russia and China on our TVs should be a constant reminder that history in no sense is over.

I'm all for indulging Russian nationalism, its Russian imperialism I have a problem with. I have noticed a problem with much of the discussion involving NATO and the support of liberal(ish) democracies on Russia's border. Many writers argue that these moves inflame Russian imperialism. But the only strategic value of these moves are to restrain Russian imperialism. NATO does little for Poland and Latvia except sharply reduce the plausibility of any Russian threat to attack them.

So protecting Russia's liberal neighbors from imperialism inflames Russian imperialism? What would the helplessness of theses states bring on? Does Putin seem like a man who would avoid exploiting weakness? Did Putin attack Georgia because Georgia was strong or because Georgia was weak, isolated and vulnerable?

There seems to be quite a bit of blame shifting going on in the last few days. Some say Georgia brought this fate on herself or that we provoked it by NATO expansion or recognizing Kosovo or the Iraq invasion. It seems any excuse will do. Where the Russians find strength they complain. Where they find weakness they exploit. The will to dominate remains constant. Putin's actions have announced to the world that his regime is a predator state. Is this regime more likely to act against strength or weakness? Does the US have the will and resources to deter it given the other US commitments? Is it best to let Russia have its way with its neighbors?

Excellent point, Pete. NATO has no designs on taking over Russia, so what why should Russia feel a need to stomp out the free nations around it?

Russia should be apologetic for its 70-year experiment with totalitarian empire. It killed tens of millions of people, and deprived many more of their right to be free. Unfortunately, the Russian people right now are content enough with their fairly stable economy to overlook their shameful history and Putin's willingness to try it again.

Putin, for his part, is looking out after Putin. He wants oil and gas monopolies, and he wants glory. That's where the crushing of Georgia suits him well.

Foreign Affairs 101: terms like "predator state" are seldom if ever helpful, even if words like "evil" and "empire" occassionally are. Was Britain in the 1860s a "predator state" for considering for a time that it would be in its national interest to recognize the Confederacy? Or shall we review its history with respect to the Boers, the entire subcontinent of India, and so on? I'm sure lots of the things Britain, and France, and the good old USA did in those 19th century happy days weren't good things, but did those things make them "predator states?" Would such a concept have helped anyone understand how to deal with such states?

As for OIL, well, I refer you to the master: "Men who live in centuries of equality have much curiosity and little leisure...they like general ideas because they exempt them from studying particular cases; they contain...many things in a small volume and give out a large product in a little time. When, therefore, after an inattentive and brief examination, they believe they perceive a common relation among certain objects, they do not push their research further..." Do I need to know anything about the history of S. Ossetia and Georgia? Naahhh! It's all about OIL, it's all about the letters K-G-B in Putin's eyes!

And the idea of blaming the Russians in toto for their communist slave-masters! Sick-making...seriously.

Strobe might be right, by the way...but American conservatives have to do more than react like an angry Pole or Ukrainian interviewed on the street.

Russian nationalism today seems to mean that Russia should get to rule wherever there are lots of Russians, such as Ukraine. One problem among many is that it was the Russians who put lots of Russians many places throughout the old evil empire. I agree with Carl on the phrase "predatory state," although I can also see why Poles and Ukrainians have very short fuses when it comes to Russians. If Strobe is right, the result will negate many liberal advances of the 1990s and ignite really dangerous ethnic conflict. So we really have to think about what we can do, and we have to hope the Europeans will too.

And I agree with Frank that Putin isn't following the repentence and self-limitation route recommended by Solzhenitsyn--his version of a republic, not an empire.

Peter, I think there is more to Putin's imperialism than even Russia's recent demand that it can intervene in neighboring states when the rights and "dignity" of "Russians" are involved (which is expansive enough since Russia sometimes expands its definition of Russian). There aren't alot of Russians in either Poland or Iran, but Putin seems strongly invested in making Poland helpless and blocking any US economic and diplomatic attempts to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Along with controlling the "near abroad" Putin is both trying to expel US power from Central Asia and Eastern Europe and to maximize the role of military threat in dealings with countries in the eastern half of Eurasia. I think Putin's idea of Russia's sphere of influence is broader than most "realists" would like it to be.

Carl, you are right on predator state. Leon Aron used the term revisionist state but... that doesn't seem to quite fit either. Its not like Putin wants to revive the Soviet empire in Nicaragua and Angola. The Russian regime want to become the predominant power in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, while being able to economically dominate much of Western Europe. Putin seems unconstrained by anything that the average American would recognize as morality in either the aquisition or use of power over other states. Thats what I was getting at. But the 19th Century Chinese would have good reason to consider England a predator state, and the early 1900's Columbians would have reason to think the same of the US. Panama and all that.

I think it is also worth drawing distinctions between the "man on the street" Russian who does not want other ethnic Russians in Latvia or Ukraine abused and the Russian regime, which seems much more cold blooded in its quest for power in the international system and whose assertion of the rights of ethnic Russians is only one tactic and pretext for expanding its influence.

Since Russia, under Putin, is perfectly willing to do what it likes militarily and we, and the rest of the world, are not, they will win. I am dreading having to see what their "winning" will be like.

Pete, That would be the difference beween nationalism and imperialism, and we'll see how serious those imperial ambitions are. So far, of course, the Western Europeans can't believe there might be a present-tense empire. And I also agree that Carl's analogy between today's Russia and the old British empire is hardly reassuring.

Russia must be imperialist in that even Russia as is rules over so many other ethnic peoples and has done so as long as Ivan and Peter. Rousseau is rather right about what is fundamentally the Russian's problem and why they don't really have a nation, but a the domination of the Russians over not only Russians but over all the various ethnic people past the Urals. The current embodiment of Russia for the past 400 years has been imperialistic and hostile to the preconditions that make self-gov't even possible.

Here AS and those who support his view are just dreamer because if you want what he says he wants he would have to surrender Russian rule over all the land that Russia currently has and allow the vast majority of Russia to govern itself. Here Pipes in his Property and Freedom is clear what is the issue and the problem of Russia and why Russia as Russia is will be fundamentally hostile to and an enemy of not only liberalism but attempts at forms of self-government.

Although this tread is all but dead.. new ones to go on to... I think this piece by Charlie Szrom at TWS gives some good ideas how to move forward here. Actually, like 911 Bush needs to make a recovery by echoing his going to NYC to the ruins of the WTC.. that is by going to Gori and Bring the eyes of the world with him. It would be a Reagan-like move, at the DMZ or at Brandenburg Gate something to recover from the dive of the post Katrina turn of his administration.

One last thing... I think this new piece from Ralph Peters hits home the import of Georgia and our reaction to it. Perhaps I should have posted it with the Wash Post post above... but did not want to be accused of going off topic.

Peter, I do not mean to reassure...what I mean to say is that we can moralize, we can denounce a despotic spirit, an imperialistic spirit, without going immediately into the verbal habits of "like Communism!" "like Nazism!" "future of democracy at stake!" In a thread above you mention that autocracies like Russia and China might emerge as the new threat we face, dwarfing that of Islamofascism...perhaps yes, although I think Kagan has bet way too much on this hypothesis. But if it turns out to be even partially so, then we have all the more reason to reteach ourselves to utilize at least some 19th-century terms and ways of thinking, terms that allow us to denounce despotic moves of other nations, while still respecting the fact that they are nations with legitimate interests, with semi-sane popular opinions that constrain their leaders, and so on. And, we have to think about the limits of our own resources and ESPECIALLY about the limits of our public opinion resources. Bush was right about Iraq, I will say it a thousand times. But he and many others (including yours truly) overestimated the American public's staying power, and misunderestimated the ongoing ability of the amorphous left to turn things into a surreal morality play. Given the ongoing plausibility and implications of Saddam's WMD bluff, we HAD to invade Iraq post-9/11. With Russia, we have lots and lots of options, and we have lots of time. And we are constrained to see what our allies are willing to do and willing to call for.

Foreign policy moralism in defense of freedom? Yes!

Auto-pilot speak-first no-gradations-of-injustice moralism? NO. I'll be voting for McCain, absolutely, but his example on Georgia is problematic.

Carl, I'm all for the gradations. I don't think Putin is a totalitarian evildoer. But I do think, as Pete says, that he's at least sort of an imperialist wizard. The invasion of Georgia, we now know, had been planned for a good while and was over a lot more than the disputed territories. Russia now "pwns" Georgia,which means, for example, no pipeline diversity. I certainly agree that talk of Georgia in NATO is less reckless than empty. Neither we nor Europe would have or will rush to defend it, as we would France or even Poland. I certainly agree that Kagan overplays his thesis, but it's still nifty as an antidote to globalization/liberalization complacency. China really should scare the hell out of us, but Russia has a long way to go before giving us, at least, the chills.

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