Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Two Minds on Russia

I originally dismissed Sumantra Maita's article over at Quillette, The Restart of History and the Russia Question, but on second reading I thought it outlined well two sides of the present view of Russia that are worth considering. Here is her opener;
We have a policy paralysis in the West with regards to Putin’s Russia. Recently, two essays “The Cold War is Over” by Peter Hitchens and the “Realism We Need” by Edward Lucas both agreed that Putin is a tyrannical despot, as any sane individual would. They both accept that Russia is a wondrous country with incredible contribution to global literature and culture, and Russians as people are exceptional, as do I. Anyone who disagrees with this, needs to get their head checked. They however differ on the causality of Russian revanchism, and prescribe completely opposing policy to counter this threat.

In his essay, Hitchens, unlikely a Realist himself in the academic sense of the term, agrees with a basic Realist explanation of the causation of Russian revanchism in Europe, and squarely blames it on NATO expansion, Eastern European colour revolutions as well as democracy promotion and liberal hegemony. He also suggests that the Cold War is over, and there’s no need to rush into another rivalry with Russia and renew a great power confrontation, given that Russia is in no position to actually threaten, (militarily or economically) any plausible Western interests unless we keep on redefining our interests in moralistic terms.

Lucas rightly states that there is indeed a new cold war, but wrongly dismisses the West’s culpability when it comes to Russian revanchism. He also suggests that we should “stand up to Putin”, a common theme of action, among foreign policy liberals. Lucas however, then bizarrely refers to Hitchens’ isolationist policy prescription as ‘Realism’, and then proceeds to valiantly slay the mythical strawman blaming Realism for everything. That might come as a surprise to actual Realist policy makers and researchers (including yours truly), because Realists haven’t been in Western policy positions, neither in US, nor in UK or EU to actually influence the countless myopic miscalculations since 1993. Both are, needless to mention, partially correct in the identification of current Russian revanchism, and in the policy prescription, but both are also clearly wrong, as I will point out below.

These two essays highlight the two dominant schools of current Western political thought process. One is a minor but influential conservative isolationism, and the other a more prevalent and mainstream liberal hegemony. Neither of them either represent and define Realism as a school of foreign policy, or prescribe a Realist policy position to deal with Russia, although Hitchens is a little closer to it than Lucas.
If, like your humble blogg'r, you are looking for the realist path to a foreign policy as a way to best secure the interests of the USA, then we all need to think hard about picking the best long-term path. This article is helpful. Give it a full read.

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