Russia: The Enemy We Have Made
After wasting $35 million and 2 years of America’s time, the so-called “Mueller Report” is in. It confirmed what we knew already and what Special Counsel Mueller probably knew as well within a few months – that the entire Trump-Russia “collusion” story was a fiction. A hoax concocted by some of the most corrupt denizens of the Deep State apparatus in Washington’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies who were hellbent on engineering a silent coup to overthrow the 45th President of the United States.
While this scandal must finally be exposed, the perpetrators brought to severe justice and safeguards enacted to prevent such treasonous insurrection from ever happening again in a republic based on the rule of law, we need to focus as well on the colossal failure of American policy toward Russia since the end of the Cold War in 1989.
When the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989 and the captive nations of Eastern and Central Europe freed themselves from 40 years of Soviet tyranny and occupation, there was celebration in the West. While the Soviet Union would not technically dissolve for another three years, the genie was out of the bottle and the Cold War was ending. The Red Army was going home. Ronald Reagan’s policies of deterrence, economic pressure, and rolling back Communist advances in Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua, and elsewhere had brought the Evil Empire to its knees.
The collapse of the Soviet Empire and the withdrawal of the Red Army from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the other satellite states should have heralded a new beginning in U.S.-Russian relations. Mikhail Gorbachev formally dissolved the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at Christmas 1991. A new leader – Boris Yeltsin—took the helm of the reborn Russian nation and there was hope that democracy and the rule of law might take root in the formerly totalitarian land.
Such a new beginning should have led with a discussion of the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, popularly known as NATO. NATO was formed in 1949 for the sole purpose of preventing the Soviet Union from invading Western Europe. The Soviet military alliance was called the Warsaw Pact and its control of most of the Eastern and Central European countries that FDR had surrendered to Joe Stalin at Yalta was judged a menacing threat to the freedom of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and the other nations of Western Europe. NATO was not created to start wars, interfere in other nation’s civil wars or internal affairs, or project its military assets outside of Europe. At least that’s what we were told. Thoughtful American leaders like Ohio’s Senator Robert Taft were more skeptical. He believed NATO might actually provoke a new war by feeding Russia’s historic paranoia about encirclement. A paranoia not without some justification. The bear has indeed been invaded throughout history, most notably by Napoleon’s France in the 19th century and Hitler’s Germany in the 20th century.
Now, from a logical standpoint, when the Soviet Empire imploded and the Red Army withdrew, what was the continuing justification for NATO’s existence? To deter a Soviet threat that no longer existed? To confront a Red Army that was demobilized? Even President Trump – as a candidate— said NATO was “obsolete.” And, so it was. And, the failure of the West to act reciprocally and terminate that military alliance has been the main contributor to the distrust and mistrust of Moscow today, along with its own fearful military actions, meddling abroad, and other destabilizing activities.
The United States and the West had a golden opportunity to welcome Russia into the family of democratic nations in 1992 and 1993, but we blew it. Our relations with Russia since then have been a saga of broken promises, military encirclement, sanctions, and threats. Not exactly how you win friends and influence people or bring former enemies over to your side. Let’s look at this sad record of the last twenty-five years:
President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Jim Baker made a deal with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. In exchange for accepting the reunification of Germany on U.S. terms, NATO would expand “not one inch” to the East. Did we keep that promise? NATO started with 13 member states in 1949. Today, there are 29, including the old Soviet client states in Eastern Europe as well as the Baltic republics right on Russia’s front porch. Even Turkey is a member. How Turkey’s membership has anything to do with preventing a Soviet invasion of Europe in 2019 is a question that should be asked. The tiny state of Montenegro is a member, meaning American boys and girls are committed to fighting and dying for a country they could not find on a map. Even Ukraine and Georgia – integral parts of old Tsarist Russia – are clamoring for membership and will probably get it. Essentially, Russia is now encircled with NATO practically within its own borders. How would the U.S. feel if the old Warsaw Pact alliance was reconstituted to include Canada and Mexico and Cuba?
The old father of post-World War II “containment” George Kennan called the expansion of NATO to absorb the former Warsaw Pact countries a “tragic mistake, opining:
“It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course, there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are –but this is just wrong.”
The expansionist NATO—whose membership policies now resemble more of a country club than a military alliance – has also been feeling its oats since the end of the Cold War. NATO intervened in Serbia in 1999 as President Clinton led a 78-day bombing campaign on a nation that had done nothing to us, except that it was a Russian ally. NATO ventured into the Afghanistan war in 2001, even though Kabul is a few miles away from Berlin. NATO continues to build up permanent land, sea, and air forces near Russian territory, along with missile defense installations in Poland. The dangling of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine was a leading cause of the Georgia-Russia War of 2008 as well as the crisis in Ukraine in 2014 which resulted in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a defensive move to counter continued NATO encroachment and a U.S. supported coup against the pro-Russian government in Kiev led by President Yanukovych.
Sadly, the result of NATO’s expansion has been a Russia that has turned away from democratic reforms and toward authoritarianism. The lost opportunities caused by the West’s broken promises have pushed Vladimir Putin toward a revanchist foreign policy more aligned with the enemies of the United States than the potential U.S.-Russia partnership for peace Reagan and Gorbachev envisioned. The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about could simply not tolerate the cessation of East-West hostilities, a “peace dividend” and all the rest. Their profits and power rested on perpetual war and conflict and it was relatively easy to convince naïve and gullible souls that “Russia never changes.”
President Trump has a chance to change the direction of this relationship, but the Russia “collusion” hoax has probably put an end to any hopes for that, at least in his first term in office. Should he win re-election, he should follow in the steps of Ronald Reagan and develop a grand strategy to work with Russia to counter Islamic terrorism, confront China’s aggressive ambitions in Asia and throughout the globe, and re-establish some sense of normalcy in relations with a country that wanted to be our friend when the Cold War ended only to be betrayed by a string of U.S. Presidents more interested in a hegemonic “pax Americana” than a genuine peace based on respect for national sovereignty and borders.
Dr. James Veltmeyer is Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, California. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sharp Grossmont Hospital or its staff. Dr. Veltmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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