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The Gore Years Asks — What To Do With Russia? October 8, 2006

Posted by chuckwh in News and politics, Politics, Russia.
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The American obsession with the Middle East may prove to be even more costly than it has already been.

Lost in the successes the Gore Administration has experienced in the Middle East is what may seem a sudden return to Russian dictatorship.

But this is no sudden return to dictatorship.

The apparent murder of Anna Politkovskaya is sending shock waves throughout journalism circles and Western embassies.

The Washington Post describes Politkovskaya as, “a Russian journalist whose byline defined the fading craft of investigative and crusading reporting in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” who “was fatally gunned down Saturday in the lobby of her apartment building in central Moscow.”

Her death is bringing to light the policies of Vladimir Putin that have, in fact, been in effect almost since his election in 2000.

Putin has slowly but inexorably developed a pattern of stifling democracy in Russia since that day.

If you know anything about Russian politics, on a certain level you can see why he has decided that a firm hand is a good hand. The Yeltsin privatizations were completely insane, and corrupt. Everything happened too fast, and, in a country as cold as Russia, it’s just not a good idea to ask a nation of more than 200 million to be Bolshevik one minute, and Darwinian capitalists the next.

So, of course, a lot of people got cold and hungry, and, sadly, very, very drunk, and a few people who knew the right people got very rich, and snapped up state enterprises, and developed tight corruption networks in and out of the Kremlin. And it all happened very, very fast.

Corruption reigned at every level. Small businesses in urban centers were buried by hoodlums demanding protection money, and a few of the biggest state enterprises became companies embroiled in controversy and corruption, while Yeltsin, drunk and oblivious, stammered about helplessly.

In a sense, it seemed at the time that Yeltsin was the epitome of what the U.S. always does wrong when backing a foreign politician. The U.S. has a habit of assuming that all nations must embrace its form of democracy, as if whatever other pre-existing form of government had not a hint of influence on daily life.

It seems all U.S. administrations tend to forget that it is not necessarily a natural transition for a nation to transform from dictatorship to democracy, that, in fact, whenever a nation jumps too quickly into democracy from any kind of a tight grip, anarchy becomes the ruler of even the most devout democrat.

Putin’s manoevering, then, was probably considered by some in the Administration as a good thing. The myth of Russian politics is that the king of the hill has the right, and even the responsibility, to enforce the law as he sees fit.

But, I don’t buy it. I know Russians, and work with them, and they are not simple minded idiots ready to fall to their knees and ask their beloved leader to take them to the promised land, or any land, for that matter. The Russians I know are no more familiar with the heroics of Stalingrad than they are the excesses of Stalin.

In fact, the Russians I’ve known and worked with have tended to be highly cynical of anything related to politics. Basically, they just want all politicians to walk off into the Siberian sunset, and never return.

This leaves us, then, with, what to do with Russia?

Russia is too great a nation for the U.S. to simply demand that they acquiesce to our will, or even, for those of us who have an affinity for that nation, our hopes and dreams.

Russia will, in the end, do what it sees fit within its borders.

Americans can wish that to not be true, but there is no denying it. Russia is not a nation that can be invaded.

There are, according to Hans Morgenthau (note that the Wiki link is a poor representation of Morgenthau’s thinking), a well known evangelist for RealPolitik, several kinds of imperialism. There is of course, the obvious power politics thing — our army is bigger than your army, and you better do what we say. But we also have things like cultural imperialism, which is basically the theory that if you slam enough people with Elvis, they’ll start liking you more.

This may seem like a silly little theory, but if Elvis isn’t accompanied by bombs and belligerence, it isn’t so bad. Actually, in some circles, if Elvis IS accompanied by bombs and belligerence, it’s a universal truth, but, luckily, those voices died with the 2000 elections.

But, of course, nothing beats Keohane and Nye, which is front and center in the Gore Administration right now, and what separates, at the end of the day, Republicans from Democrats.

Joseph Nye is a Harvard professor who has been saying for years, since the Carter administration, at least, that interdependence is the way of the world. Morgenthau, on the other hand, is the father of power politics and Republican thinking,and says, no, you must dominate in some way, either through regular imperialism (my guns are bigger than yours) or cultural imperialism (I have Elvis, and you don’t).

The argument that Ronald Reagan simply beat the Soviet Union into submission is a fallacy, and something most Americans believe to be true. It is true that Reagan bankrupted the Soviets, but it is not true he gave birth to Mikhail Gorbachev. And it is also true that he almost bankrupted the United States during the process.

The better policy would have been, and is, and has proven to be, one of interdependence. The Keohayne and Nye theory dictates that if you force a certain level of commerce upon two nations, they reach a point where it is imperative that violent conflict is no longer a viable option.

Our current engagement with China is a perfect example. The two countries can bicker all they want, but they need each other so desperately that war is not an option, not even over Taiwan. Or, maybe, especially over Taiwan. It may take decades to come to an understanding over Taiwan, but the economies are now too linked to think of other options.

It’s a beautiful thing, actually.

But that never happened with Russia. True, many of us, and myself included, get the joy of working with Russians, but the fact is, our economies are not intertwined the way the economies of China and the US are. The lucky few of us who get to work with Russian engineers, or scientists, or whoever, will be the saddest if Russia leaves the circle of democracy that is trying to form a ring around our planet.

Putin’s efforts to reign in lawlessness are understandable, given his country’s recent history.

But his government now is acting like a Russian mob. And we all know how ruthless and dispicable Russian mobsters are.

At the end of the day, I know that the Russian elections have mirrored the US elections. Putin was elected in 2000, and so was the American President. Putin was re-elected in 2004, and so was the American President.

I always thought that the American presidency was supposed to be a bully pulpit of sorts.

I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed in this American President, and his silence against a real travesty.

But so what if I am?

Russia is proving that we need to decide, once and for all, as a nation, which side we’re on.

Hans Morgenthau’s, or Joseph Nye’s.

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