During that time, the American secretary of state — quoted above — has not been alone in expressing surprise. With varying degrees of shock, commentators and politicians have speculated about the significance of Putin’s “new” language, wondering whether it means Russia’s road to democracy has reached a fork, whether Putin was really speaking to his domestic audience or whether the speech heralded some kind of policy change. ~Anne Applebaum
The quote from Secretary Rice at the start of Ms. Applebaum’s column is actually rather worrisome. If she isn’t simply coming up with a polite public statement to conceal Washington’s agitation, it suggests that she has literally no idea how the Russian government or people view American policies. That is a fairly horrifying thought. Even by the standards of this gang of jokers, it would be a new low of incompetence and ignorance. It would be one thing if she and others in the administration knew how badly they were angering Russia with their policy decisions, but chose to ignore it for ideological or other reasons, but for them to actually not know fills me with dread.
This would that mean that she, an old Soviet policy expert who speaks fluent Russian, understands less about the current state of the country she has spent most of her life studying than she does about the Near East (about which she seems to know virtually nothing). More frightening in its way, she seems not to understand Moscow as well as a random amateur foreign policy enthusiast such as myself does. This really is not boasting on my part–it is a statement of how miserable the Secretary of State must be at her job. I don’t pretend to know all that much about Russia (and my spoken Russian is virtually non-existent), but it hardly takes an international relations Ph.D. (or even an IR major!) to recognise where Putin’s frustrations with American intrusions into Moscow’s sphere of influence are coming from. No wonder Condi Rice is Krauthammer’s preferred presidential candidate–they share an obliviousness about the rest of the world that is matched only by their presumption to rule it.
Ms. Applebaum has hit on a strange part of the relationship with Moscow: the phoney front of goodwill and enthusiasm for Russian democracy together the ridiculous expressions of friendship for the Russian President. When an American President nicknames the Russian President “Pootie-Poot” (no, I’m not making that up) and oversees the expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia and prepares to deploy a missile shield to former Warsaw Pact nations (in violation of past promises), what is the Russian to make of this? Does he say, “Well, it might appear on the surface that Mr. Bush is trying to threaten and contain Russia, but I know–because of the endearing nickname that he has given me–that all is well and the Americans mean no harm”? No, the Russian says, “The American is trying to play me for a fool, while he continually provokes us with intrusions and meddling that no self-respecting nation would tolerate.” He responds accordingly and, as a Russian nationalist and patriot with an authoritarian style, sets about trying to counter what he can only regard as threats to his country’s influence in its immediate neighbourhood.
Imagine, if you will, how we would respond if the Russians were meddling in, say, Nicaragua or Cuba or even some tiny island like, oh, let’s say Grenada. We just might find this to be an intrusion into our part of the world and an attempt to project power in a way detrimental to our interests! Now imagine if the Russians committed to a mutual defense pact with Mexico, and ask yourself whether we would regard this as a rather unfriendly and unnecessary act. Then imagine that the Russians begin installing advanced weapons systems in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with an eye towards protecting these satellites from U.S. missile attack–would you not regard these as provocative, or even outrageous, actions? Might the President feel the need to say fairly bluntly that this is unacceptable? If the Russians had made a habit of more or less randomly selecting target nations to bomb or invade for the last fifteen years, wouldn’t we view their encroachments into our part of the world as part of some potentially nefarious design? For goodness’ sake, when Ahmadinejad visits Nicaragua and says various blustery, idiotic things Rick Santorum et al. believe that the Irano-Venezuelan empire is practically about to take over the southern United States, but when our Vice President goes to Lithuania and tells the Russians how to run their own country it is supposed to be considered “mild criticism” in support of “democracy.” These are dangerous double standards that will alienate current and potential allies and help forge a broad coalition of powers against the United States.
Secretary Rice not understanding what Putin meant in his speech is sadly an only too common phenomenon in this administration. It is as if none of these people in the administration is able to imagine why it is that other nations might look askance on the aggressive policies that the administration officials regard as benevolent or generous behaviour. This is the same Secretary Rice who thought it was diplomatic to tell the people of Lebanon that the destruction of their country was the “birth pangs” of a new era–very reassuring! These are the people who think that turning an entire land into a killing field should be met with gratitude and feel annoyed that the subjects, er, liberated, joyful citizens have not kept up their end of the deal. Unfortunately, none of this is surprising. It is a product of a dangerous, fanatical ideology that dictates that America must dominate and be able to project power everywhere. It will unfortunately lead to more dangers for our country and more threats to our people because our government does not know how to use its power sparingly and judiciously.