Some months back I organized a dinner on Capitol Hill that brought together some former and current Russian officials with a number of prominent U.S. Republicans and conservatives, including two congressmen, a conservative magazine publisher, some journalists, and others. It didn’t seem like a particularly newsworthy event—just a routine opportunity for some top Washington hands to share views and perceptions with prominent counterparts from another national capital. The fact that the foreign capital was Moscow testified to the fact that I have been concerned about the rising bellicosity in the U.S.-Russian relationship. But then I have been concerned about the bellicosity of American foreign policy generally.
Time magazine, though, saw significance in the dinner far beyond anything I had contemplated. It ran a 1,500-word piece exploring what it seemed to consider an intriguing phenomenon, captured in its headline: “Moscow Cozies Up to the Right.” One thrust of the piece was that Moscow has initiated a “dramatic shift” in its efforts to influence U.S. domestic politics—namely, by cultivating an apparently unsuspecting American conservative movement.
The Time piece wasn’t particularly objectionable in terms of its focus, though the suggestion that American conservatives might be susceptible to manipulation by foreign officials certainly betrayed a lack of understanding about those American conservatives who have not signed up for membership in good standing among the neoconservatives who dominate the country’s right-leaning politics. For that reason, I offer here a broader perspective on those conservatives—they are numerous and prominent—who want to see America pursue international relations far different from what we have seen in recent decades.
For me and many others on the right, Russia is not the main focus, but a component of years of effort to advance a more realistic and restrained U.S. foreign policy. Someone who is interested in such a foreign policy would naturally conclude that it is in the best interests of our country to have a good relationship, if possible, with any country that possesses the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal.
There is a long tradition of American noninterventionism dating back to our Founding Fathers, who had hoped to keep the newly formed United States free of the recurrent destruction caused by the recurrent European wars. For decades, comity with other nations was the default position of the U.S. government and the American people. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, advised posterity to avoid “foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues” and to “observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.”
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams said in 1821 that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
More than half a century ago, Congressman Howard Buffett, father of Warren Buffett, said on the floor of Congress:
Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home. Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. Persuasion and example are the methods taught by the Carpenter of Nazareth, and if we believe in Christianity we should try to advance our ideals by HIS methods. We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.
When America has ignored this sage advice, the result has been many negative unintended consequences and costs far exceeding those anticipated or advertised. Imagine if George W. Bush had told us in 2001 he wanted to start a series of wars that would kill 6,000 Americans, wound tens of thousands more, kill hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners, make millions homeless, totally destroy ancient cities, and wreck several countries. Add to that the expenditure of five to six trillion dollars, and after 16 years have more people committed to attack and destroy us than before, with no end in sight. Would anyone have agreed to such a disaster other than the neoconservatives?
Author Bill Kauffman writes:
It’s easy for armchair warriors and Washington’s laptop bombardiers to issue stirring calls for other people’s sons and daughters to go abroad to slay dragons, whether in Vietnam, Iraq, or, 100 years ago this month, Europe. The result, however, is death and devastation abroad, and at home the expenditure of fantastic sums on the military-industrial-political complex which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against.
One is ceaselessly amazed at the hypocrisy of the political and media elites as they uncritically and enthusiastically cheer on our creation and support of conflicts that daily kill innocent people, yet recoil with horror and indignation when a person is caught committing a politically incorrect act such as kicking his dog. Where is the outrage at the many unnecessary deaths we are causing now with ill-considered foreign policy?
Author Gareth Porter writes: “The United States shares responsibility with the Saudi-led coalition for the Yemeni deaths from starvation that will result from the Saudi war strategy, because of the coalition’s dependence on U.S. logistical and political-diplomatic support.” Where is the concern and outrage over the American government’s complicity with those tragic and unnecessary deaths in Yemen (to name but a single country)?
Many serious thinkers believe that today’s sudden high level of Russophobia and neo-McCarthyism is a worthy diversion from the many failures of America’s interventionist foreign policy. The United States and Russia together have the power to cooperate and settle the war in Syria. But this is anathema to the Washington political and media establishment. Hence the constant harping to alienate and marginalize any person or idea in favor of cooperation.
These days the Washington default position appears to be in favor of multiple wars in multiple locations around the globe—Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, Somalia, Iran, Korea, the South China Sea. Some of these hotspots might create conditions requiring the world’s greatest power to protect its interests militarily. But we can’t fight in all these locations at the same time without encountering disaster. And it must be acknowledged that we have a long and unbroken history of failure of this type of policy.
Of course these wars haven’t been a failure for the Washington political and media establishment and especially not the military-industrial complex. All greatly profit from such foreign interventions. In the case of the press there is nothing like war fever to keep the ratings and revenues up. The only thing comparable is an O.J. trial. Sadly for them he is in prison, so they will just have to settle for war.
Were America to enjoy a realistic and restrained relationship with the Russian Federation today, perhaps the ongoing tensions with Iran could be deescalated with Russian cooperation. Perhaps a negotiated settlement to the heart-rending Syrian civil war could be realized. Perhaps an accommodation in Ukraine, based on a policy of regional autonomy within that tragically split country, could be fostered. Perhaps Russia could serve into the future as a valuable counterweight to the Asian specter of a rising China. And perhaps the two countries with the greatest nuclear capabilities in the world wouldn’t be looking at each other with clenched teeth.
But those things don’t seem to be goals for many of Washington’s keyboard warriors, who appear to be attracted to bellicosity in word and action and who prefer to divert their gaze from the many dead, displaced, and homeless people strewn across the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of American foreign policy.
I work with a number of significant organizations from across the political spectrum that have for years promoted a realistic and restrained U.S. foreign policy. Even though they hold very diverse views on many issues, they are comfortable working together to stop destructive interventions. These organizations field a deep bench of intellectually powerful and experienced thinkers and writers. Below is a partial list of organizations with which I have first-hand involvement. There are numerous others with which I have not been involved that also share these beliefs.
Chas Freeman (Brown University now. Former career diplomat and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia)
Bill Bradley (former U.S. senator, Committee on Foreign Relations)
Chuck Hagel (former U.S. secretary of defense)
Jack Matlock Jr. (career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union)
Robert Parry, Gilbert Doctorow, Ray McGovern
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Ray McGovern (former intelligence officer)
There are also numerous members of Congress who share these beliefs—often across party lines. They include Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who recently introduced a Senate bill to mirror Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) bill to require our government agencies to “Stop Funding Terrorists.” Without funding from some of our “allies” and our government, it is unlikely that ISIS would exist. One would think that it would be logical to not encourage, enable, or fund those organizations that the Washington establishment has repeatedly labeled “existential threats.” Or are these organizations merely convenient excuses for increases in their budget?
I note also the significant academics and writers who have written extensively about the importance of a realistic and restrained U.S. foreign policy:
Andrew Bacevich, emeritus at Boston University
Doug Bandow, Cato Institute
Patrick Buchanan, author and commentator
Stephen Cohen, Princeton and New York University
Robert David English, University of Southern California and Foreign Affairs magazine
Stephen Kinzer, Watson Institute of Public Affairs, Brown University
John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago
Barry Posen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stephen Walt, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
The following are some organizations that promote constructive relationships with Russia and Eurasia and often expose the false information purveyed by the Washington political and media establishment:
American Foreign Policy Institute, Herman Pirchner
The Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History in American University, founded by Susan Carmel
Eisenhower Institute, run by Susan Eisenhower
The Eurasia Center, Gerard Janco
Institute of World Politics, John Lenczowski
Edward Lozansky, president and founder of the American University in Moscow and founder of the U.S.-Russia Forum
While U.S. relations with Russia are not the primary focus, Russia is an important component of our efforts to create a successful and humane foreign policy. What Washington’s political and media elites are promoting is neither successful nor humane. The Cold War ended nearly 30 years ago, and there is no more Soviet Union to threaten us. We are serious Americans interested in promoting good behavior by our government and the pursuit of peace and prosperity. The constant warfare has greatly impoverished America and we seek to end the waste and destruction not only to our country but to others. To seek better relations with Russia and the rest of the world is part of the noble American tradition of Washington, Adams, Eisenhower, and many others.
George D. O’Neill Jr. is a member of the board of directors of the American Ideas Institute, which publishes The American Conservative.
The following are links to articles by writers and thinkers—liberals, conservatives, libertarians, leftists—who caution against the neo-McCarthyite, anti-Russian hysteria that has swept Washington. They are in no way pro-Putin, but they do understand that it makes no sense to escalate tensions with the nation possessing the world’s second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in close geographic proximity to Europe.
“U.S. Loses by Treating Russia as an Enemy”
Stephen F. Cohen
Article archive at the The Nation
Robert David English
“Russia, Trump, and a New Détente”
“More About Russia and Less About Flynn?”
“Contacts With Russian Embassy”
“Our American Pravda”
Russia Insider is a pro-Russian organization, probably financed by the Russian government, that does, however, provide useful and interesting information.