Friday, May 18, 2012

America and the Russian Bear - Time for a change of direction?


Foreign policy is slow to change here in the US of A.  It seems as if once we decide who are the good guys and bad guys we never get around to seeing if they have changed or our relationship has changed over the years.

Take Russia for example.  Until the fall of the Tsar in 1917 Russia was an ally of the United States and in fact Russia was probably responsible for saving the USA during our own Civil War.

Since most history books seem to have ignored this crucial story perhaps a reminder is in order.  In 1862 when it appeared as if the Confederacy might win the war the British and French governments, both of whom were backing the Confederacy over the Union, moved their own troops into Canada and Mexico respectively and were prepared to attack Lincoln and the Union at the first opportunity.

With the Union Army nearly wiped out by Confederate commander Robert E. Lee  the most important battle of the Civil War was about to take place at Gettysburg.  Lincoln knew the outlook was bleak and that any intervention by British and French troops on behalf of the South would win the war.

Secretly, so secretly that his own personal secretaries and the Secretary of War Stanton did not know, Lincoln sent a courier to the Tsar with a private note from him asking for help. When the courier reached Russia and got to the Tsar he said he had a private letter from President Lincoln and before he said another word, before the letter was even opened, the Tsar said he had such a high regard for the new American President he would do whatever Lincoln asked.

What Lincoln asked was that Russian, the greatest enemy in the world of Great Britain and France, let the European powers know that any invasion by them of America would be considered an act of war against Russia as well.

Not only did the Tsar agree but he sent his fleet into New York and San Francisco harbors to help defend the North as he sent couriers to Britain and France to warn the kings an invasion of America would be considered an act of war against Russia as well.

After the fall of Russia to Communism in 1917 the Communist Manifesto to conquer the world kept the Soviet Union at arms length, only because Hitler and Nazi Germany posed a far greater threat.

For the period of World War II we were allies with the Soviet Union and in fact American arms and weapons sent to Russia helped keep Hitler from conquering the Soviets. However, as soon as the war ended we were bitter Cold War enemies and that lasted until about 1990 when the Communist control over the Soviet Union collapsed.

After that we tried to make the new Russia into an American reflection of Democracy and nearly destroyed the countries of the former Soviet Union.  It has taken over 20 years for Russia to recover and begin the long process toward limited democracy.

I believe it is time a new American foreign policy be adopted toward Russia and China that reflects the new world situation, alliances and common interests.  Yet we continue to treat both countries with Cold War suspicion and mistrust.

This story deals with Russian USA relations.  A follow up will outline a new USA China relationship.  Tantamount to both countries is the need for the USA to articulate a willingness on behalf of America to become a true partner and ally of Russia while recognizing that the Russian people and culture may never be able to adopt our brand of democracy, but at least they can move toward such a goal.

In Russia we have a nation over 2,500 years old with a rich culture and history thousands of years older than democracy or communism.  While Russia is one of the top ten nation's in the world in terms of economy, our minimum support for the Russian government has left friction between nations and unrest in the United Nations.

Russia and China are aligned with their old allies like North Korea, Iran and Syria, thus there is additional tension between the USA and them, especially when issues get to the United Nations Security Council.  Russia and China have consistently vetoed resolutions against the three countries mentioned.

With the recent election of Vladimir Putin to his third term as President of the Russian Federation there is a window of opportunity to move to improve relations with this ancient culture but it will take initiative on our part as much of the world has been confused by the strange foreign policy of America.

Though Russia has fallen from a Superpower to the 9th strongest economy on Earth there are still many assets like an abundance of natural resources, that are vital to Europe.  In addition any strategic defense treaties between the two would eliminate the need for many more treaties with other nations.

It is time we put behind suspicion and fear and stop treating Russia like a potential threat and move forward to improve relations across the spectrum with this sleeping giant which is a true indication of the Russian potential.

We should recognize Putin as the survivor he is from the Communist and KGB regimes and though we may not be enamored with his personal habits and bravado, he has now been elected president three times and served four more years as prime minister.  That is a powerful indication of support from the people of Russia.

Yes there is corruption in Russia just as there is corruption in America, in the halls of government in fact.

Yes there is voter fraud in elections just like we had in Florida during the 2000 election.

Russia may have corrupt businesses but look what our Wall Street has done to the world economy because of greed.

And of course the Russians and Chinese alike have developed powerful cyber hacking capabilities through the Internet but didn't our intelligence agencies hack them first?  Don't they have a right to defend their computers from being hacked by us?

There is too much good that can be accomplished by cooperation between the US and Russia in many fields from medicine to space (already we are dependant on them to get into space), from global environmental issues to nuclear proliferation.

I say roll the clock back to the time of Lincoln when Russia saved the United States and then work together to build a better world.

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