Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Obama's Problem with Russia

Readers of this blog might think that, because of my generally positive statements, I have no disagreements with Barack Obama. You would be mistaken. While I do think that Obama is one of the most talented politicians to come along in a long time and has the temperament, mind, and vision to potentially be a great leader of the United States, I do have my differences with some of his positions, at least as I understand them.

For example, I find his position on the Russia/U.S. relationship troubling. In the debate last Friday evening, Obama put forward what I consider to be an outdated view of the Russian/United States relationship. Following the end of the Cold War around 1989, the Soviet Union fragmented into many pieces, the largest of which was the nation of Russia. A number of the Soviet Republics broke away and became independent nations. An agreement was made between the Russian and American leaders at the time that if Russia allowed this to happen non-violently, then the United States would not seek to take advantage of it by extending the Western security alliance called NATO. Russia kept their end of the bargain but the U.S. did not. Since then, not only have the captive Eastern European nations, like the Czech Republic and Poland, joined NATO, but also former Soviet Republics like the Ukraine and Georgia, which have an historical special relationship with Russia, have also been considered for NATO membership. Russia has taken a very dim view of this and felt like they were double-crossed. And as Russia has grown strong with oil revenue, they have begun to respond in their 'neighborhood'. The recent war with Georgia is a perfect example of this.

Now, what a lot of folks don't realize is that a lot of this 'doublecrossing' happened in the Clinton Administration, with a foreign policy establishment of Madaline Albright, Richard Holbrooke, and others. The foreign policy establishment over the last 15 years have all agreed with this. But many people think it is a major mistake and could lead to a new Cold War. In fact, some of the former Republican Secretaries of State like James Baker seem to have more sensitivity to this the Democrats.

I think the mistake we made was in treating Russia as a permanently poor and weak country, rather than the great power it continues to be, with a large number of nuclear weapons and a huge land mass with many natural resources. In the opinion of many, we needed to seek a more cooperative relationship with a no-longer-Communist Russia, rather than kicking dirt in their faces. But instead we wanted to be the unparalleled world hegemon, the world's 'top dog', and so we sought to weaken Russia by extending our influence and power to their very borders. (A large part of this seems to have been driven by our need for the oil resources of the Middle East and the Caucasus region of Georgia, Azerbaijan, etc.)

If we continue along these lines, as both candidates seem to be advocating to one degree or another, then we could wind up in a very dangerous new Cold War with Russia. And that is something we definitely do not need, not with our ability to blow each other up.

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