“Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together,” Edmund Burke admonished the haughty rulers of the British Empire of his time.
Our American empire is suffering from a similar want of wisdom and plenitude of the hubris that cost George III his 13 colonies.
Consider how this generation of politicians is undoing the great work of Ronald Reagan. When Reagan took office in 1981, the Soviet Union of the aging autocrat Leonid Brezhnev was an “evil empire” that stretched from the Elbe to the Bering Sea with thousands of nuclear warheads targeted on the United States. The Red Army had recently occupied Afghanistan, and Moscow had established imperial outposts in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America.
Yet the year Reagan departed, 1989, the Soviet empire threw open its prison gates, released the captive nations of Eastern Europe, then peacefully dissolved itself and let 14 republics, many of which the czars had ruled for centuries, become free and independent states.
Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin became strategic partners of American presidents. For once Communism had been exorcised from Russia, there was no ideological, ethnic, or territorial conflict between us. For we live on different continents in hemispheres separated by the world’s largest oceans. Moreover, Russia belongs with the West. As Solzhenitzyn wrote, Mother Russia was “the first captive nation.”
Both of us also have a vital interest in balancing off a rising and possibly revanchist China and resisting an Islamic fundamentalism that seeks to drive Russia out of the Caucasus and America out of the Middle East.
Thus, as there is no relationship more critical to the security of the West than that between Washington and Moscow, it is with near-despair that one reads the front-page story in the Washington Times: “Senators Seek to Sanction Russia: Say Putin Acts Autocratically.”
Who are the senators? They are those twin protectors and proctors of global democracy, Joe Lieberman and John McCain, and they want Putin sanctioned by having the world’s industrial democracies, the G-8, suspend Russia’s membership, which would be an insult and humiliation.
Putin’s crimes? Says McCain: “Mr. Putin has moved to eliminate the popular election of 89 of Russia’s regional governors, has cracked down on independent media, continued his repression of business executives who oppose his government, and is reasserting the Kremlin’s old-style central control.” Says McCain, “The coup is no longer creeping it is galloping.”
But a question arises: Why are these internal matters of the Russian republic any business of John McCain’s? Putin is the elected president of Russia. Who elected McCain to anything outside of Arizona?
During our Civil War, Lincoln blockaded Southern ports without the approval of Congress, suspended habeas corpus, sent troops to prevent a free election in Maryland, sought to arrest Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, shut down newspapers, shot down rioters on the streets of New York, and made himself dictator of the Union. Was that any business of the members of Britain’s House of Lords? Just who do we Americans think we are?
Whether Russia’s governors are elected or appointed is none of our business. As for the jailing of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, or any of the others in that den of thieves, that is no more our concern than TR’s smashing of the trusts or Truman’s seizure of the coal mines or Bush’s incarceration of Martha Stewart was or is any of Russia’s business. As for President Putin acting “autocratically,” can Sen. McCain recall when Russian rulers have acted any other way?
Why are McCain and Lieberman bullyragging Russia but not China? After all, Putin was elected, but Hu Jintao was not. Russia has an elected legislature with opposition parties. China has never held a free election. The Russian people have freedom of religion. China persecutes Christians. Russia threatens no U.S. ally. China threatens Taiwan. In a recent issue of Parade, a list was drawn up of the world’s 10 worst dictators based on their human rights violations. Hu Jintao was fourth from the top. Putin was not even mentioned.
Since Reagan achieved the rapprochement with Russia, the United States has pushed NATO up to her borders; bombed her ally Serbia for 78 days; interfered in elections in Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus; and begun a pipeline to cut Moscow out of the Caspian oil trade.
Now, Russia is going her own way: selling SAMs to Syria, AK-47s to Venezuela, missiles and fighter aircraft to China, and aiding Iran in completing its first nuclear power plant.
Of this generation of leaders, it may be said in epitaph: They were too small to see the larger world. They frittered away in a decade what others had won in a half-century of perseverance in the Cold War.