Every so often, someone in the Bush Administration actually makes a sensible point, though often not in the manner they intend. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, before jetting off to the Caucasus (an area that makes the Balkans look friendly), stated that the Administration’s “message is that Russia has perhaps not accepted that it is time to move on from the Cold War.” It is indeed time to “move on from the Cold War,” and our inability to do so poses many problems for the United States, as Pat Buchanan and others have been arguing since the Cold War ended nearly twenty years ago.
There is no reason why America and a non-Communist Russia should be enemies. If America has a potential strategic rival, it is China, a nation that might someday wish to grab large chunks of Siberia, which is as underpopulated as it is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Those filled with a burning desire to kill Americans tend to live in the Islamic world, which is also filled with rage at Russia over Chechnya. One would think that it would be relatively easy to reach a modus vivendi with the Russians.
But rather than “move on from the Cold War” and shrink our international military presence to a level necessary to defend America rather than police the globe, our leaders sought instead to entrech the institutions that were created to fight a war that was over. Preeminent among these was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which should have disbanded in 1991 but instead has been expanded to cover virtually all of Europe. George H. W. Bush told Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not be expanded to the frontiers of Russia, but his successors have done just that, with the neocons even urging that NATO be expanded to include Georgia, as pointless a provocation of Russia as a Chinese-Mexican mutual security pact would be of us.
Regrettably, but predictably, the neocons have reacted to the Russian invasion of Georgia with a mixture of Russophobia and democracy worship. Neither emotion is a sound basis for American foreign policy. One gets the impression that some neocons will never forgive the Russians for having mistreated their great-grandparents. The Russians were not nice to my great-grandparents, either. But the question Americans need to consider when evaluating our relations with Russia is not what the Cossacks did to great-grandmother, but whether friendship with a nation that faces some of the same challenges we do and still commands a formidable nuclear arsenal is a more sensible arrangement than the alternative.
I am glad that Georgia has a democracy, but commiting America to defend every democracy on the planet from its neighbors is a sure road to national ruin. The only reason to enter an alliance is because it enhances the security of the United States, and it is hard to see how a formal commitment to defend Georgia would enhance American security. And, shocking as it may sound, the leaders who ordered Russian troops into Georgia were elected by the Russian people, and are genuinely popular in Russia. Converting every nation in the world into a democracy would not ensure that all countries would be friendly toward America, nor that they would pursue policies consistent with ours. We should stop trying to run the planet, and recognize that the surest way of creating something like another Cold War is to act as if the Soviet Union never fell and pretend that Russia today is seeking to dominate the world rather than maintain some influence over countries whose fate, for good or ill, has been entwined with Russia’s for centuries.