It’s thus not really a surprise that conservatives veer away from discussions about “interests” when they call for reckless policies of confrontation that have already been tried and that have already failed spectacularly. After the dramatic deterioration of US-Russia relations that occurred under George W. Bush, how is it possible for someone to think that “needling the Kremlin” will bring about *more* cooperation and will bring any sort of benefit to the US? The US has already made a attempt at conducting a foreign policy of “contemptuous moralizing” and it was an absolute catastrophe.
When one reads Russophobic arguments, one should always bear in mind that the people making them assume that any deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations can be and should be blamed entirely on the Russians or on the Russians’ taking advantage of an unduly accommodating American administration. Once it is taken for granted that U.S. policy cannot be at fault for increased tensions with another government, especially the Russian government, there is no need to concern oneself with the possible adverse consequences of a more aggressive U.S. posture. So long as one assumes that “weakness is provocative” and “the only thing those people understand is strength” and ignores everything else, a more confrontational policy always seems to be the right answer regardless of past experience or present circumstances.
It doesn’t matter whether or not a more confrontational policy is demonstrably bad for concrete American interests. Maintaining “resolve and strength” in the eyes of the world should take precedence. According to this view, it’s also fairly important to avoid judging policies based on results, and instead focus entirely on questions of “values” and “moral clarity.” Thus a moderately successful policy of repairing relations with Russia can be condemned as an “abject failure” (in Romney’s words) because things completely unrelated to the goals of the policy (e.g., Russian arms sales, Russian elections, etc.) have not improved. Once measurable success can be treated as “abject failure,” it is not so difficult to reimagine catastrophic failure as brilliant statesmanship.
As long as the anti-Russian hawk intends something good, the failure of the associated policy is not that important (and its failure can in any case be blamed on the intransigence, ideological inflexibility, or general nastiness of the other government). Adomanis notices that Satter avoids mentioning American interests in his post, and that’s true, but this needs to be explained a bit more. Especially over the last ten or twelve years, movement conservatives have had a bad habit of referring to “values” and interests interchangeably and treating them almost as if they were the same thing. Viewed this way, it is not appropriate to acknowledge trade-offs between “values” and interests if promoting “values” involves undermining or antagonizing authoritarian governments. According to the very strange definition of the national interest that such people use, antagonizing authoritarian governments is desirable as an end in itself. That’s not because it makes America more secure or prosperous (it usually does neither and sometimes has the opposite result), but rather because it makes them feel morally superior, which is what they seem to think the purpose of U.S. foreign policy is.