In his 1835 classic, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville was prescient in his characterization of the Russians and the Americans: “The American struggles against the obstacles which nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russians are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the Americans are therefore gained by the ploughshare; those of the Russians by the sword. The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centers all the authority of society in a single arm. The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude.”
It is pretty clear from this analysis that these two cultures were on a collision course, which, aided and abetted by the assertiveness of Marxist-Leninist ideology, was manifested in the 20th century. And in spite of the fact that the West was ultimately triumphant, recent developments indicate that the conflict is re-emerging in a modified form.
In the August issue, I commented on the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and suggested that he would have been an obvious choice to lead a Russian “truth commission” to examine and provide transparency and a sense of closure to the Soviet Communist regime of the 20th century. What a difference this would have made in the world’s response to the recent Russian invasion of Georgia. Let’s be very clear–a historical accounting of the lies and crimes of the past century would put in proper context the claims that Russia is now asserting. The current aggression, conceived in the perception of U. S. weakness because of its preoccupation with the Iraq conflict, which is acknowledged, and endemic European weakness and intimidation, which is obvious, is totally calculated to roll back American hegemony in the region, which is anathema to Russian leadership.
Russian President Medvedev has made the Russian position very clear, in part as follows: “…the world should be multipolar, a single pole world is unacceptable;……there are regions in which Russia has privileged interests.” And there are a number of very influential thinkers who have sympathy for the Russian position. But let us also be clear about this pivotal point in world affairs–failing to stand up to this Russian intervention in a sovereign nation state would significantly damage every international gain since the end of the Cold War. Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman said it well: “In the long run, a Russia that tries to define its greatness in terms of spheres of influence, client states, and forced fealty to Moscow will fail.”
Obviously, the U. S. is not going to war with Russia over Georgia, but there are a number of things that should be done in response to this violation of world order, including expulsion of Russia from the G-8, the accelerated advancement of Ukraine and Georgia membership in NATO, and the denial of Russian membership in the World Trade Organization. Further, we should advance the organization of a league of democracies, which would counter the United Nations and exclude those nations, including Russia, that have not sufficiently demonstrated their commitment to rule by the consent of the governed.
American credibility is at stake here, and the presidential election campaign should give due attention to the reality of these events and their import, as well as who is best qualified to organize, articulate, and deliver the American response.