On a recent episode of “Life, Liberty and Levin,” Hoover Institution fellow Niall Ferguson told host Mark Levin, “The problem at the moment is partly that we are on a kind of permanent war footing with respect to Moscow … It’s also partly that President Putin simply cannot bring himself to trust the United States.”
It couldn’t be, could it, that the first problem is causing the second? At Cold War’s end, based on “ironclad guarantees” from George H.W. Bush and Jim Baker that NATO had no business expanding eastward, Russia allowed German reunification to proceed, and speedily pulled more than 300,000 troops and 4,000 tanks out of East Germany — despite its fears of a reunited Germany, to which it had lost 25 million lives.
As journalist Eric Margolis pointed out in 2017, this was “a giant concession” by Mikhail Gorbachev, “as it led to a failed coup against him in 1991 by Communist hardliners …. All western powers assured the Russians that NATO wouldn’t take advantage of the Soviet retreat and that a new era of amity and cooperation would dawn.”
After Sept. 11, 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first world leader to come to America’s defense, allowing flight passage through Russian Federation air space into Afghanistan plus cooperation from the Northern Alliance, which they had armed and trained back in USSR days. He also offered intelligence sharing and the formation of a strong U.S.-Russia alliance and brought up the idea of Russia joining NATO.
In reciprocation, the U.S.-led NATO expanded to Russia‘s borders, placed missiles facing it, withdrew from the ABM Treaty, sponsored color revolutions ousting Moscow-friendly governments, supported separatists in the Caucasus, and for our first post-Cold War military action we bombed Russia‘s historical ally, Serbia — a process set in motion as the first foreign policy of — you guessed it — a reunified Germany.
But it was Libya in 2011 that marked, according to Mr. Putin, the last time he would trust the West: After Muammar Gaddafi observed the cease-fire called for by State Department Resolution 1973, — which Russia uneasily abstained from vetoing — the U.S. and NATO nonetheless proceeded to bomb Gaddafi’s forces and supporters.
It would seem the U.S.-Russia relationship could use some balancing out if World War III is to be avoided. But since we refuse to save ourselves, ironically a country we saved in World War II may be coming to our rescue. Two weeks ago, a Frenchman offered a revelation, as this Reuters headline attests: Macron Says NATO Should Focus on Terrorism Instead of Russia: “It’s no secret that there certainly are differences between allies,” President Emmanuel Macron explained, “But the strength of NATO is that we have had the same kinds of differences before, and every time we have been able to overcome them … Who is our common enemy? This question deserves to be clarified. Is our enemy today, as I hear sometimes, Russia? Is it China? Is it the Atlantic alliance’s purpose to designate them as enemies? I don’t think so. Our common enemy at the alliance is, it seems, terrorism, which has hit all of our countries.”
Instead of compounding the might of the civilized world against a clear enemy that professes itself such, we invited the enemy in, pushed off a capable partner, called foe “friend,” and cast out the Slav as barbarian. At such a loss are we over how to fight the real enemy, which is inside the gate — as this week’s Pensacola attack by Saudis reminds us (again) — all we can think to do is infest ourselves with it, while pointing to the decoy, Russia, as the “bigger” problem.
We welcome Saudis, but kick out Russians. At the same time, our intelligence, security and military services eject terms such as “jihad” and “Islam” from training manuals, and inject Russia. This doesn’t serve national security, so we must ask, what is their business, exactly? The American people and their president must ask why it’s more important to kill Russians than protect Americans (how retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters gloated in the pages of the New York Post when Russians in Syria were killed by our strikes in early 2018).
But it was Mr. Putin who made a condolence call to Mr. Trump in the wake of the October 2017 Las Vegas shootings, and Mr. Trump responded in kind when a passenger plane crashed near Moscow. Rather than withholding national day greetings as our State Department did in 2017 for the first time since the Russian Federation‘s founding — or snubbing Russia every Victory-Europe Day as we do (even ordering other heads of state to not attend) — each man called the other with congratulations on their respective election victories, be damned all the “national security” advisers telling Mr. Trump not to make the call.
This is the stuff of civilization. Perhaps we’ve forgotten what that is in our endless frenzied foraging for wilder friends.
One hopes that Mr. Macron’s boost for Candidate Trump’s original assertion that NATO is obsolete might embolden President Mr. Trump to revert to that opinion. In winter 2001-02 — the Cold War 10 years gone — Duke University Press published a World Policy Journal article that wondered, “The Fight against Terrorism: Where’s NATO?” It actually didn’t occur to NATO until 2017 to devote resources to fighting terrorism. In May of that year, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reported, “[President Trump] said in April that it was ‘no longer obsolete’ after many allies — following repeated exhortations by senior U.S. officials earlier this year — started making plans to increase their military spending and incorporate counterterrorism into NATO‘s mission.”
If, as this doubly confirms, NATO can’t get away from its original purpose of combatting Russia, no matter how much Russia — and the world — have changed, then it has lost its purpose. In the 1990s, everyone knew that, which is why the goal suddenly became resuscitating NATO — NATO for NATO‘s sake — and both Serbia and Russia were used toward that end. But to keep NosferNATO alive, Russia had to become a threat again. And so NATO started to surround it. Mission accomplished: Russia was dragged back into enmity. So that our officials could then tell us, “See? You need NATO, because look what Russia is up to.” This is circular logic, but the whole world fell for it.
When we’re not talking trash to or about Russia (Sen. Lindsey Graham’s statesmanly words at the Munich Security Conference three years ago: “2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress”), we’re asking for help from this supposed miscreant nation, as a broker with North Korea or Iran. Two years ago, an AP reporter asked Mr. Putin, “The U.S. wants Russia to do more to persuade North Korea to curtail its missile programs … Do you think that cooperation on North Korea could warm up Russian relations with the U.S. under Trump?”
The vintage Putin response held up a mirror:
You’re curious folks. Have you noticed that your congressmen and senators have placed us on par with Iran and North Korea, and at the same time they’re pushing the president to persuade us to work with you in solving the nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran? Are you OK over there? … But we try not to get offended, not to hold grudges, over some often hard-to-understand decisions. In 2005, North Korea signed an agreement on stopping its nuclear program. North Korea took upon itself certain responsibilities. Everyone gladly signed these agreements.
And just a few months later, it seemed to the U.S. that these agreements weren’t enough. And right away, North Korean bank accounts were seized. And the U.S. said North Korea has to do something more, beyond the signed agreements. Well, North Korea said to hell with this and exited the agreements and restarted its nuclear program. Why did you do this? Did you think it wasn’t enough? Well then why did you sign the agreements? We think that both sides need to stop deteriorating the situation. We’ll of course cooperate with the U.S. on all issues including North Korea.
Our lawmakers have complained that they have a hard time finding reliable partners in the Muslim world. Well, we are the slippery “partner” to other countries that are looking to deal straight. And make no mistake, Mr. Putin is someone who wants to make a deal — for example, he was open to Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine trading with both the EU and Russia; the West wasn’t. The constant message is: You can’t be in the club; you’re a target, not a member.
We may not be so lucky with Mr. Putin‘s successor if we don’t start behaving. Or we may be looking at our last merry Christmas.
⦁ Julia Gorin, a Soviet Refusenik who came to the U.S. in 1976, is editor of “Hillarisms: The Unmaking of the First Female President.”