The New American Cold War
Given different principles and determined leadership, it is still not too late for a new US policy toward post-Soviet Russia. Its components would include full cooperation in securing Moscow's materials of mass destruction; radically reducing nuclear weapons on both sides while banning the development of new ones and taking all warheads off hair-trigger alert; dissuading other states from acquiring those weapons; countering terrorist activities and drug-trafficking near Russia; and augmenting energy supplies to the West.
None of those programs are possible without abandoning the warped priorities and fallacies that have shaped US policy since 1991. National security requires identifying and pursuing essential priorities, but US policy-makers have done neither consistently. The only truly vital American interest in Russia today is preventing its stockpiles of mass destruction from endangering the world, whether through Russia's destabilization or hostility to the West.
All of the dangerous fallacies underlying US policy are expressions of unbridled triumphalism. The decision to treat post-Soviet Russia as a vanquished nation, analogous to postwar Germany and Japan (but without the funding), squandered a historic opportunity for a real partnership and established the bipartisan premise that Moscow's "direction" at home and abroad should be determined by the United States. Applied to a country with Russia's size and long history as a world power, and that had not been militarily defeated, the premise was inherently self-defeating and certain to provoke a resentful backlash.
That folly produced two others. One was the assumption that the United States had the right, wisdom and power to remake post-Communist Russia into a political and economic replica of America. A conceit as vast as its ignorance of Russia's historical traditions and contemporary realities, it led to the counterproductive crusade of the 1990s, which continues in various ways today. The other was the presumption that Russia should be America's junior partner in foreign policy with no interests except those of the United States. By disregarding Russia's history, different geopolitical realities and vital interests, this presumption has also been senseless.
As a Eurasian state with 20-25 million Muslim citizens of its own and with Iran one of its few neighbors not being recruited by NATO, for example, Russia can ill afford to be drawn into Washington's expanding conflict with the Islamic world, whether in Iran or Iraq. Similarly, by demanding that Moscow vacate its traditional political and military positions in former Soviet republics so the United States and NATO can occupy them--and even subsidize Ukraine's defection with cheap gas--Washington is saying that Russia not only has no Monroe Doctrine-like rights in its own neighborhood but no legitimate security rights at all. Not surprisingly, such flagrant double standards have convinced the Kremlin that Washington has become more belligerent since Yeltsin's departure simply "because Russian policy has become more pro-Russian."
Nor was American triumphalism a fleeting reaction to 1991. A decade later, the tragedy of September 11 gave Washington a second chance for a real partnership with Russia. At a meeting on June 16, 2001, President Bush sensed in Putin's "soul" a partner for America. And so it seemed after September 11, when Putin's Kremlin did more than any NATO government to assist the US war effort in Afghanistan, giving it valuable intelligence, a Moscow-trained Afghan combat force and easy access to crucial air bases in former Soviet Central Asia.
The Kremlin understandably believed that in return Washington would give it an equitable relationship. Instead, it got US withdrawal from the ABM treaty, Washington's claim to permanent bases in Central Asia (as well as Georgia) and independent access to Caspian oil and gas, a second round of NATO expansion taking in several former Soviet republics and bloc members, and a still-growing indictment of its domestic and foreign conduct. Astonishingly, not even September 11 was enough to end Washington's winner-take-all principles.