Offer was sincere but neocons got in the way
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at The Unz Review
As the largest nation in the world, with historic connections to the rest of Europe, but also to Asia, Putin understood as well that Russia, despite the Communist interlude, was still a major power to be reckoned with.
A reawakened Russian conservative nationalism and a return to the traditional Orthodox Christian faith did not, he initially hoped, predetermine an eventual clash with the European Union nor with the United States.
Indeed, after the 9/11 attack on the “twin towers” in New York, Putin’s Russia was the first nation to offer its full support to and its cooperation with American intelligence agencies to combat terrorism and bring the culprits to justice. Having combated Chechen Islamic terrorism in the Caucasus region, Russia had experience dealing with Islamic extremism. [Allen C. Lynch, Vladimir Putin and Russian Statecraft, pp. 100-105; Stuermer, pp. 5-6]
Nevertheless, Bush administration Neoconservatives basically kicked Russia in the teeth. With their zealous belief in liberal democracy and global equality, to be imposed on offending nations if need be, as Allan Bloom once boasted, they condescendingly refused Russian collaboration.
As leading Neocon publicist and “talking head,” Charles Krauthammer, expressed it, “we now live in a unipolar world in which there is only ONE superpower, and that is the United States.”
The Neoconservative condescension towards Russia, first after 9/11, then with the threatened placement of missiles in Poland, pushing NATO to the very borders of Russia, and finally following the bungled American diplomatic escapade in Georgia in 2008, cemented a conviction among Russians and by Vladimir Putin that the desired partnership with America was unrealizable, at least for the time being. [See Lynch, ch. 6, generally, for a thorough discussion of Russian foreign policy; Stuermer, pp. 196-199]
The desire for Russia to become a “collaborative partner” in any kind of situation resembling international parity was just not acceptable to American Neocons.
Whereas Yeltsin had been welcomed in Washington as “America’s poodle,” willing to do America’s bidding, Putin believed that the largest nation in the world, which had thrown off the Communist yoke, merited a larger role. His desire was for a real partnership.
But aggressive attempts spearheaded by the United States to incorporate formerly integral parts of Russia—areas that were and continue to be considered within the Russian “sphere of influence,” even if independent—into NATO, largely dashed Russian hopes for partnership with the West. [Stuermer, pp. 191-196]
In 1996 the late George Kennan cautioned the American foreign policy establishment that expansion of NATO into those areas “was a strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.” Kennan warned against a foreign policy that was “utopian in its expectation, legalistic in its concept … moralistic … and self-righteous.” [Robert Sidelsky, Kennan’s Revenge: Remembering the Reasons for the Cold War The Guardian, April 23, 2014, ]
Henry Kissinger echoed this warning on November 12, 2014, calling in Der Spiegel the American response to Russia “a fatal mistake.”
Perhaps it is no coincidence that many of the present-day Neocon publicists descend from immigrant Jewish Labour Zionists and inhabitants of the Russian “pale of settlement,” who experienced tsarist pogroms in the late 19th century and who later formed the vanguard of Marxist efforts to overthrow the tsar and establish a socialist state?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s mammoth study, Two Hundred Years Together (still untranslated into English, although a French edition exists: Deux Siecles Ensembles, 1795-1995, Fayard, 2002), offers fascinating detail on this process.
The Socialist internationalism manifested by those revolutionaries found its incarnation in Leon Trotsky, murdered at Stalin’s orders in Mexico in 1940.
Despite the supposed migration of the Neocons towards the political Right in the 1970s and 1980s, the globalist and “democratic” legacy of Trotsky remains a not-so-distant lodestar for many zealous partisans.
At times this paternal reverence continues to break forth, in unlikely sources. On National Review Online, a few years back, Neoconservative writer Stephen Schwartz wrote:
"To my last breath, I will defend Trotsky who alone and pursued from country to country and finally laid low in his own blood in a hideously hot house in Mexico City, said no to Soviet coddling to Hitlerism, to the Moscow purges, and to the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, and who had the capacity to admit that he had been wrong about the imposition of a single-party state as well as about the fate of the Jewish people.
To my last breath, and without apology. Let the neofascists and Stalinists in their second childhood make of it what they will." [See Professor Paul Gottfried's commentary on Takimag.com, April 17, 2007]
For the American Neocons, the emergence of a nationalist, Christian, and undemocratic Russia is perhaps too reminiscent of the “bad old days.”
And despite very different circumstances, a non-conforming Russian state demanding any form of parity with the world’s “only remaining superpower” is out of the question.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European intellectual history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain and an MA in American intellectual history from the University of Virginia. He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk.