Who Lost Russia?

by Patrick J. Buchanan – February 16, 1998

Seven years ago, the romance of the age was between America and a Russia newly liberated from Leninism. Ronald Reagan was being toasted even in Moscow as having been right all along about the “evil empire.” Brave Boris Yeltsin stood atop a Russian tank to defy unreconstructed Communists seeking to re-establish the old regime.

How far away that all seems.

Today, Yeltsin blusters that U.S. strikes on Iraq could ignite a “world war,” as Moscow’s defense minister berates William Cohen. Russia ships missile technology to Tehran, sides with Saddam in the Persian Gulf, and establishes a “strategic partnership” with China.

The rise of anti-Americanism in Russia is a strategic disaster that may yet lead to an open breach, financial collapse and Yeltsin’s replacement by an anti-Western nationalist. For this state of affairs, however, Russians alone are not culpable. Much of the blame rests with a haughty U.S. foreign-policy elite that has done its level best to rub Russia’s nose in its Cold War defeat — as it thumped its chest and trumpeted America’s claim to be the “world’s only superpower.”

Consider the unprecedented opportunity America had in 1991.

Moscow had allowed its European empire to collapse, it had withdrawn the Red Army and let Germany be reunited, it had freed the Baltic republics and Ukraine, and it had allowed the U.S.S.R. to dissolve into a dozen nations. Having overthrown communism, it held out a hand to America. Every goal of U.S. policy had been attained.

At that point in history, Russia and America were no longer enemies but natural allies. Nowhere did the vital interests of one impinge on the vital interests of the other.

Yet, instead of behaving toward a defeated Russia as we did toward Germany and Japan after World War II, bringing them into the Western camp, some Americans began to treat Russia as a dangerous delinquent and probable recidivist to be corralled and contained in the tight little box in which history had placed her.

In the last year, U.S. Marines have conducted exercises in the Crimea, U.S. paratroops have practiced jumping in Kazakhstan, and the United States has begun pushing NATO up to the borders of Russia, while American strategists sought to cut Russia out of the oil and gas trade of the Caspian. The attitude seemed to be: If the Russians don’t like it, tough — what can they do about it?

Russians have reacted as Americans would have reacted, had the Confederacy won its independence and British warships arrived in Charleston and Redcoats in Virginia. And they have responded to our assurances that NATO’s expansion is not directed against them as we would have to assurances that a London-Richmond alliance was not a British plot to contain a divided, diminished United States.

NATO’s expansion to Warsaw, Prague and Budapest may be a fait accompli, and future expansion to Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia and Macedonia inevitable, given our present hubris. But, as George Kennan writes, history may call this the greatest blunder of the post-Cold War era.

Americans had best wake up and look at Europe — as Kaiser Wilhelm’s minister reported back on the eve of World War I, after a visit to their Vienna partner, “Sire, we are allied to a corpse.” Our NATO allies have all slashed their force levels, and their populations are dwindling. They are more dependencies than allies and are so behaving, choosing when, whether and where to support the imperial protectress. Can anyone believe that France and Italy, neither of which supports us in the Gulf, would declare war on a nuclear-armed Russia to defend Estonia?

Given the present balance of power, Russia can only seethe and plot with our enemies behind our back, as we hand out NATO membership cards to nations lately in her sphere of influence or even part of her empire. But the present balance will not forever endure.

One day, America’s hegemony in the Baltic or the Balkans will be challenged. On that day, when our new NATO allies invoke our guarantees, we will find that a new generation of Americans will not send its sons to fight, simply because this one promised it would.

The NATO expansionists have won the day on Capitol Hill, but they have guaranteed a series of crises in the new century that will mean either war or humiliation for the United States.

Americans might ask themselves: Why at the peak of our global pre-eminence do we seem so universally resented? Is it perhaps because the Old Republic is behaving like an arrogant empire?