Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Russia: Friend or Foe?

Who has more business in the Middle East?

The recent Islamic terrorist attack in Paris has led the French government to respond with air strikes against ISIS in Syria. These events might lead American politicians to re-evaluate their thinking about the Russian military intervention in support of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in his two-pronged struggle against Syrian rebels on one front, and ISIS militants on the other.

In a recent Republican debate front-runner Donald Trump supported Putin’s intervention and argued that the United States can no longer act as the world’s “policeman.” In response, Jeb Bush argued that the United States should not give up its leadership role in world affairs. There is something to be said for both positions but sometimes leadership means stepping back from untenable positions and recognizing one’s limitations.

What could be President Putin’s motives for entering the Syrian conflict? I could think of a number of them but the first one that comes to mind might be his fear that the Islamic revolution could spread to his own borders. Any observer can see that the so-called “Arab Spring” has been a disaster. The toppling of “strongmen” or dictators in Libya and Egypt has led to chaos in Libya and military rule in Egypt.

If you look at a map of modern Russia you will see that almost its entire southern border is made up of non-Russian states whose population is overwhelmingly Islamic. ISIS and other Islamist militants pose a much greater threat to Russia than they do to the United States or Europe. When Russia lobs its cruise missiles into Syria, they only have to travel 1000 miles compared to the 6000 miles or so that separate the USA from the area.

The ISIS terror and bloodshed in Syria and Iraq certainly must be stopped but why can’t American politicians and commentators see that if the USA can ask England, France, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to help, why can’t we accept a role for Russia?

After the Second World War and the total defeat of Germany and Japan, we set about rebuilding those two battered nations. We had learned the lesson of the First World War where the victorious powers kept a foot on the throat of defeated Germany by saddling it with an enormous war debt.  The resulting chaos in Germany led to the rise of Hitler, the Nazis and the Second World War. As a result of the USA’s participation in the political and economic recovery of Germany and Japan after WWII, these two countries have become real allies. 

However, after the defeat of the Soviet Empire in the “Cold War”, we still continued to regard Russia as an enemy.  As former Soviet “republics” gained independence from a Russia in both political and economic chaos, we stepped up the pressure by welcoming them into the Western orbit, and, in some cases, even letting them become members of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, a military organization formed after WWII to counter the Soviet threat.

Today, Russia strikes me as Europe’s Canada. It has tremendous oil and natural gas reserves and both Europe and the now independent former Soviet republics are major customers. Wouldn’t it be in the interests of the USA to regard Russia as an ally and not an enemy?
It is true that Russia recently reclaimed its long-time sovereignty over the Crimea and is making threatening gestures in eastern Ukraine. But how many people are being beaten, raped, tortured or beheaded in the Crimea? The Crimea has literally disappeared from the news.

Someone should ask the Ukrainians if they prefer their current independent status within the Russian sphere of influence, or if they would prefer to be in the middle of an all out shooting war? The Ukrainians are major users of Russian oil and gas. We should consider whether it would be better for the Ukraine to be independent of both Russia and NATO.

Nevertheless, the USA and its NATO allies continue to call for increasing military and political pressure on Russia. Just this week NATO has offered membership to Montenegro, a tiny republic in the Balkan Peninsula that has only recently gained its independence from Serbia. Most of the NATO members provide little military or economic to NATO but it will add another country to the list of those that could involve NATO and the USA in a terrible war.

Last year we remembered the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War that began with a political assassination in a small Balkan state. Now we should remember the terrible fighting of 1915 and 1916 that caused millions to lose their lives in the trenches. The USA and Russia have much in common. It would be much better if we were allies rather than enemies.


No comments:

Post a Comment