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The Eagle and the Bear

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

By Gary Hart
Matters of Principle


A post-Cold War mystery prevails.  Why, almost twenty years after the end of the Cold War, are there still so many members of the U.S. foreign policy community (often called foreign policy elites) who seem instinctively to dislike the Russians?

Reasons can be found: Russia is not yet a democratic society; it is far from having a genuine free press; political dissent is discouraged; power and wealth are concentrated; too many Russians lean toward authoritarianism; and so forth.

All these are plausible arguments, except they overlook one thing: there are a number of areas where less antagonistic relations with Russia would help the U.S.  These include: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power; containing the threat posed by North Korea; preventing al Qaeda from making inroads into Muslim republics on Russia’s southern border; controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; continuing to help us resupply our forces in Afghanistan; and a wide variety of other common interests.

Instead, we periodically find a way to poke the Bear in the eye.  We quickly took the side of the Georgians in their conflict with Russia, though later facts demonstrated Georgian provocation.  We continue to consider placing missile defenses near the Russian border.  Until recently we pursued NATO membership for the Ukraine and Georgia, even though a majority of Ukrainians oppose it and few Europeans want to go to war with Russia on behalf of the Georgians.  And two decades after the end of the Cold War we still maintain trade restrictions (called the Jackson-Vanik amendment) against the Russians for no good reason.

Following the adage that we don’t have permanent friends, we have permanent interests, we have many more common interests with the Russians than we have matters in opposition.  We do not have to compromise our principles in order to pursue those common interests.  Nothing requires us to soften criticisms for undemocratic behavior.  Nothing requires us to lower our standards....(Remainder.)

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