Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Bear in the Tree 

One of my pet peeves about the previous American administration is the way they squandered an opportunity to bring the Russians into the European sphere. The Russians aren't stupid. They know what NATO is for. For all George W. Bush's talk about how he looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul, I believe he lost a chance to widen the circle and bring Russia in. The Americans expanded NATO at a time when the threat from what used to be the Soviet Union was declining.

I don't think this cartoon would go over very well in the States. The Americans are not accustomed to thinking of the Russian bear as a scared cat hiding in a tree. And we must admit that they have the testimony of history on their side. Let's not forget that up until the "Great Game" period at the end of the 19th Century, the Russians had been expanding at a rate of 55 square miles a year for 400 hundred years. That's a lot.

China seems strangely detatched from all of this today, but that has not always been true. Say what you want about Mao, he was a student of history, and he was not naive about the Russians. The huge underground cities in Harbin and Beijing were not designed to protect China from the Americans. They were constructed in fear of a Russian invasion.

But I can't help wondering how things might have been different if the Americans had spearheaded a discussion with the Russians about forming some sort of cooperation with NATO. This sort of approach would have had integrity to it, and could have leveraged the rapport Bush claimed to have with Russian leadership. Instead, they focussed on installing missiles in Poland. Does anyone really believe that those missles are only intended to protect Western Europe from Iran? This argument, in contrast to the road not traveled, had no integrity to it. The Russians didn't fall for it, and no honest person should have expected them to.

George W. Bush said that he looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul. Naive. McCain said he looked into Putin's eyes and saw three letters, K-G-B. Confrontational. Obama said he was going to press the reset button. Diplomatic. But what will he do after the relationship reboots? This is the important question, and it has become more difficult to answer because of a missed opportunity.

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