Russian Roulette: A Bipartisan Consensus for Disaster

Stephen Cohen is right on Russia in "Wrong on Russia." After first outlining Russia's global importance and then the vast dangers of the accelerating deterioration in US-Russian relations, Cohen notes in the International Herald Tribune:

How did it come to this?

In the U.S. policy elite and media, the nearly unanimous answer is that Russian President Vladimir Putin's antidemocratic domestic policies and "neo-imperialism" destroyed that historic opportunity. You don't have to be a Putin apologist to understand that this is not an adequate explanation.

During the last eight years, Putin's foreign policies have been largely a reaction to Washington's winner-take-all approach to Moscow since the early 1990s, which resulted from a revised U.S. view of how the cold war ended.

In that new triumphalist narrative, America "won" the 40-year conflict and post-Soviet Russia was a defeated nation analogous to post-World War II Germany and Japan - a nation without full sovereignty at home or autonomous national interests abroad.

The policy implication of that bipartisan triumphalism, which persists today, has been clear, certainly to Moscow. It meant that the United States had the right to oversee Russia's post-Communist political and economic development, as it tried to do directly in the 1990s, while demanding that Moscow yield to U.S. international interests. It meant Washington could break strategic promises to Moscow, as when the Clinton administration began NATO's eastward expansion, and disregard extraordinary Kremlin overtures, as when the Bush Administration unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty and granted NATO membership to countries even closer to Russia - despite Putin's crucial assistance to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan after 9/11. It even meant America was entitled to Russia's traditional sphere of security and energy supplies, from the Baltics, Ukraine and Georgia to Central Asia and the Caspian.

Such U.S. behavior was bound to produce a Russian backlash. It came under Putin, but it would have been the reaction of any strong Kremlin leader. Those U.S. policies - widely viewed in Moscow as an "encirclement" designed to keep Russia weak and to control its resources - have helped revive an assertive Russian nationalism, destroy the once strong pro-American lobby, and inspire widespread charges that concessions to Washington are "appeasement," even "capitulationism." The Kremlin may have overreacted, but the cause and effect threatening a new cold war are clear.

Yes, it's our old friend American Exceptionalism again: we are imbued with divinity (or blessed by history for the secular exceptionalists), so everyone must hew to Washington's paternalistic line -- or else Daddy spank. American elites can never comprehend the reality of the outside world because they are too busy admiring their special, exceptional selves in the mirror.

Cohen then outlines some immediate steps we could take to reverse the dangerous situation:

Three are essential and urgent: a U.S. diplomacy that treats Russia as a sovereign great power with commensurate national interests; an end to NATO expansion before it reaches Ukraine, which would risk something worse than cold war; and a full resumption of negotiations to sharply reduce and fully secure all nuclear stockpiles and to prevent the impending arms race, which requires ending or agreeing on U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe.

Sounds like a good plan. What do our wannabe leaders have to say? Uh oh:

American presidential campaigns are supposed to discuss such vital issues, but neither John McCain nor Barack Obama has done so. Instead, in varying degrees, both have promised to be "tougher" on the Kremlin than George W. Bush has allegedly been and to continue the encirclement of Russia and the hectoring "democracy promotion" there.

Great. Not only more of the same disastrous course -- but even more of more of the same.