We were reminded of that quote just a few days ago by Gilbert Doctorow, in an interesting article--Rapprochement With Russia?--about the growing consensus that the NYT editorial referred to: that a better relationship with Russia is actually in America's best interest. Duh! And we all know who's been standing in the way of better relations--people who could care less about US national security interests. Who place those interests in a very distant second place--if that--to "getting" President Trump:
Starting in July and running to the present day, there have been repeated calls from mainstream media, from leading statesmen and from diplomats, in the United States and in Europe, for some kind of rapprochement with Russia to be put in place. This is remarkable given the continually escalating informational, economic, military confrontation between Russia and the US-led West over the past five years. That confrontation has emerged in two waves of anti-Russian hysteria: the first, after the daring (or brazen) Russian reunification with (or annexation of) Crimea in March 2014, and the second, with still greater momentum towards war, following the November 2016 election of Donald Trump to the presidency, which was accompanied by allegations of Russian collusion with candidate Trump and other meddling in the U.S. election processes.
Since the United States initiated the New Cold War, it is only fitting that the first steps towards its resolution are coming from there. And it is not in the least surprising that these steps were taken in the aftermath of the April 2019 release of the Mueller Report, which showed that the allegations of Russiagate were without merit or not actionable. Trump’s political enemies were compelled to move on to other issues of contention that would serve better in the next presidential campaign, which is quickly approaching.
That is the context in which I place the fairly amazing editorial of The New York Times dated 21 July 2019 entitled “What’s America’s Winning Hand if Russia Plays the China Card?” The NYT, which along with The Washington Post, had been among the most fervent disseminators of Russiagate theories and of poisonous characterizations of the “Putin regime” now was calling for … re-establishing civilized relations with Russia in order to draw the country back from its growing alliance with China.
... It was also obvious for years that a major factor encouraging the Russian-Chinese embrace was the political, military and economic pressure each was receiving from the United States going back to the administration of George W. Bush and running through the Obama and Trump administrations. ...
Where did this concept come from? Doctorow believes, plausibly enough, that Henry Kissinger is behind it:
As for where it came from, I would put forward the name of Henry Kissinger, who exerted considerable influence on candidate Trump in 2016 and continued to have his ear in the early days of the new administration. There can be little doubt that Kissinger urged Trump to reach out to Putin precisely to halt the dangerous drift of Moscow towards Beijing under pressure from successive US administrations. ...
Doctorow, who writes from Brussels, is most interested in the implications of all this for US/EU relations. Thus he identifies the "overriding issue driving Russian foreign and military policy" in NATO specific terms: Russia wants to be accepted within "the security arrangements that the Europeans have put in place together with the US." As Doctorow correctly notes, that security "architecture ... is in fact directed against [Russia]."
Anyone who cares to can come up with a lengthy list of extraordinarily provocative steps that the US led NATO has taken that are inimical to legitimate Russian interests--including the support for the Yeltsin kleptocracy, the looting of Russia by the oligarchs, the war on Serbia, support for Georgian provocations and the coup in Ukraine and, finally, the insane "Russia Collusion" hoax and subsequent hysterical reactions. The list goes on. And on. And it's all fairly pointless from any rational geostrategic standpoint. It was only a matter of time before Russia would be driven to seek support from China.
In the meantime President Trump, who is emphatically not a patsy for Putin, was prevented from initiating the creative policies that he outlined in his campaign--policies that would benefit both Russia and the US. However, with the Mueller Dossier now public, the path seems to have been cleared for just such initiatives as are being urged by Western statesmen--including now Trump himself, in public statements:
In the period just before, during and after the G7 meeting in Biarritz on 24-26 August 2019 there have been several widely noted remarks from senior Euro-Atlantic statesmen on the need to improve relations with Russia.
A week before the summit, French President Emanuel Macron received Vladimir Putin for talks at his summer residence on the Côte d’Azur. Macron “played up efforts ‘to tie Russia and Europe back together’ and underscored his belief that ‘Europe stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok.’….In his Facebook post [after the meeting] Macron said….’I’m convinced that, in this multilateral restructuring, we must develop a security and trust architecture between the European Union and Russia…” (The Moscow Times, 20 August 2019).
Before and during the G7, Donald Trump told reporters that Russia should be there with them. At the summit’s conclusion, he indicated he was thinking of inviting Russia to the meeting when he hosts the group in Florida next year. Implicitly this means reviving full lines of communications with Russia which were cut at the insistence of Obama to punish Moscow for its misbehavior in Ukraine.
On 27 August, the day after the G7 closed, in the course of a speech to the assembled ambassadors of France in the Elysée palace, President Macron spoke at some length about the need to ‘reconsider’ ties with Russia within the context of facing up to the major challenges of a world in which the West had lost its hegemony. He called the exclusion of Russia from the New Europe following the fall of the Berlin wall a ‘’profound mistake.” ... (www.liberation.fr).
All of that is interesting, and you can follow the link to read the full test. All I want to point out is that there is plenty of room for cooperation and respect for legitimate Russian interests short of any formal security agreements--desirable as those might be, especially in a European context. I'm think especially of the turmoil that stretches across the Middle East from Mediterranean and on into Central Asia. Decades of disastrous Neocon and Globalist hegemonic have left the US in a situation in which it has few good options. But, closer cooperation with Russia could make a real difference in giving the US greater flexibility and credibility--and in no situation more than our relations with Iran. The US has plenty it could offer Putin to pull off a decisive improvement in relations with Russia, and a good place to start would be to show a bit of respect for Russia's own legitimate concerns. It's an idea whose time has come, even if it will require careful handling.
UPDATE: Commenter Forbes has provided a link to a lengthy article by Angelo Codevilla (whose work I've cited previously) at The Claremont Review: WHAT'S RUSSIA TO US? I can't recommend it highly enough. For anyone with reservations about what I wrote above, the detailed views of a widely respected expert in the field may be of interest. I don't say that one need agree with all his views, but the overall thrust of what he has to say is highly persuasive. He sketches a broad history of US-Russian relations in geo-strategic terms, then provides detailed recommendations for placing US-Russian relations on a sound and even productive basis that would serve our own interests.
Some striking passages from the concluding section:
Making impossible a rational public discussion of U.S. policy toward Russia is the very least of the damage this partisan war has wrought. American liberals believed the Soviet Union’s dissolution was impossible; conservatives flattered themselves that they caused it. Few paid attention to what happened and how. Once the Soviet Union was gone, the West in general and Americans in particular presumed to teach Russians how to live, while helping their oligarchs loot the country. Russians soon got the impression that they were being disrespected. At least as Soviets, they had been feared. The Clinton Administration was confident that Russia would become a liberal partner in the rules-based international order. At the same time Clinton tried to load onto Russia the hopes that the U.S. establishment had long entertained about global co-dominion with the Soviets. In the same moment they pushed NATO to Russia’s borders—a mess of appeasement, provocation, and insult. Long-suffering Russians, who had idolized the West during the Soviet era, came to dislike us.
What are the American people’s interests in Eurasia, and how big are these interests? Although today’s Russia poses none of the ideological threats that the Soviet Union did—and despite the absence of geopolitical or any other clashing interests—Russia is clearly a major adversary in Europe and the Middle East. Its technical contributions to China’s military, and its general geopolitical alignment with China, are most worrisome. What, other than Soviet inertia and wounded pride, motivates the Russians? The U.S. maintains economic sanctions on Russia. To achieve precisely what? From both sides’ perspective, it is difficult to see what good can come from this continued enmity.
... Today, the problems between Russia and China stem from basic disparities that U.S. policy obscures by treating Russia as, if anything, more of a threat than China. The best that the U.S. can do for itself is to say nothing, and do nothing, that obscures these disparities. Without backhanded U.S. support for close Russo-Chinese relations, the two countries would quickly become each other’s principal enemies.
What then are America’s legitimate, realizable demands on Russia?
Putin’s Russia, by its 2015-18 intervention in Syria and its management of Turkey, achieved the tsars’ historic desire for a warm water port. Although the former conquest is firm, keeping Turkey friendly to Russia must ever be troublesome. Absent a friendly Turkey, Russia’s renewed control of Crimea and even the Syrian bases will be of very limited worth for any but defensive purposes. Whatever else might be said of its role in the Middle East, Russia has brought more stable balance to local forces than ever in this young century. Only with difficulty will American statesmen regret that our old adversary now deals with some of the problems that bedeviled us for a half-century.
... Today’s Russia realizes it cannot control Ukraine except for its Russian part, nor the Baltics, never mind the Visegrád states. The U.S. could lead Russia to be comfortable with that reality by reassuring it that we will not use our normal relations with Ukraine or with any of Russia’s neighbors to try to define Russia’s limits in Europe. We should realize that our setting such limits is beyond America’s capacity, and that it undercuts the basis for fruitful relations.
... Ukraine’s independence—and hence Russia’s acceptance of it as inevitable—depends on Ukraine retrenching into its Western identity, rejecting the borders that Stalin and Khrushchev had fixed for it, and standing firmly on its own feet—as, for example, by asserting its Orthodox church’s independence from Russia’s.
Wise U.S. policy would remove sanctions that previous administrations placed on Russia on behalf of Ukraine. Fruitless strife has been these sanctions’ only result.
But in accord with the Monroe Doctrine, we should be willing to wage economic war on Russia—outright and destructive—on America’s own behalf, were the Russians to continue supporting anti-U.S. regimes in the Western hemisphere. If you want economic peace with America, we would say, stop interfering in our backyard. We Americans, for our part, are perfectly willing to stop interfering in your backyard.
In sum, nothing should be geopolitically clearer than that the natural policy for both America and Russia is not to go looking for opportunities to get in each other’s way.