Today, Russia has many critics in the West who accuse it of sliding back into dictatorship. And what is their proposed solution? Usually, it is to criticize Russia and its leaders and try to strong-arm them into adopting policies of greater democracy and alleged greater respect for human rights.
These attitudes stem from a pervasive faith shared by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in the United States that is so pervasive, it’s greatest believers are totally unaware of how much they are in thrall to it: They believe that democracy is the only acceptable political system around the world, and that consequently the United States should wage a ceaseless ideological crusade and should not rest until at least all the major nations of the world share the same limitless blessings of a perfect democratic system.
Now, I am all in favor of democracy myself: I prefer living within a fully democratic system than under a communist, fascist or repressive theological one. But I am against waging wars to imposing the American, or any other, democratic system, on other nations. And I am equally opposed to a purely ideological foreign policy that would treat the governments of the world purely according to how Freedom House and its similar bodies grade them according to how it assesses their freedoms. This is hardly an-anti-American position. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams and modern Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton believed and acted exactly the same way.
Ironically, the history of the West and the United States over the past three quarters of a century exposes the dangerous folly of such self-righteous fantasies.
Britain and the United States only won World War II against Nazi Germany because they were allied with the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Not one in 100,000 Americans alive today, I believe, knows or remembers that it was the Red Army, not the U.S. or British forces, that liberated the Nazi extermination complexes of Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland.
Nor did Western pragmatism – or hypocrisy – end with the destruction of the truly evil Third Reich. President Nixon is still hailed as an American statesman and peacemaker for his detente policy with the Soviet Union and his outreach to China. Not all the repercussions of the Watergate scandal that forced him to resign can take away from that.
Yet, Nixon, like Reagan after him, supported the two most corrupt regimes on the planet for decades that ground hundreds of millions of their unfortunate peoples into degradation and despair. These were the kleptomaniac dictatorships of Indonesia under President Suharto and Zaire (today called Congo) under President Mobuto Sese Seko.
Russia has come an amazingly long way since first visited it in the spring thaw season of 1982. That does not mean its political system is the same as those of the United States, or the major nations of Western Europe. But it’s no Indonesia under Suharto or Zaire under Mobutu either. And the United States never had any trouble getting along with them.
All the moral lecturing of Russia by Western critics misses two crucial points.
First, even if Russia were to relapse back into some form of strict authoritarian government – and so far it has not – that would not make war or conflict with the United States or the West inevitable. The United States and the British Empire and the communist Soviet Union were reliable and exceptional successful allies to each other throughout World War II. Then, the United States and the Soviet Union successfully steered clear of any direct conflict in the 44 years of the Cold War from 1945 to 1989. (It wasn’t easy: At times, they came dangerously close to war.)
Second, ensuring Russia remains a democracy will be no guarantee of peace with Russia, even if such a starry-eyed, ill-defined, reckless and irresponsible policy such as intervening in Russia’s internal affairs could ever succeed.
For throughout modern history, democracies have often waged war on other countries, including on other democracies. The idea that the best guarantee of world peace is a world filled with, and dominated by, democracies is just another myth.
What theUnited States and Russia really need is a serious dialogue between their top leaderships aimed at defusing tensions and managing real and unavoidable conflicts of interest. Both nations need to work hard on identifying their areas of mutual interest, and expanding them.
The last thing American and other Western leaders need to do is to cave into the mounting hysteria from the think tanks and the armchair strategists churning out their endless morally outraged columns for the op-ed pages, and embrace a policy of ideological criticism and name-calling against Russia.
The two thermonuclear superpowers need to respect each other and improve their cooperation: The peace of the world demands it.