Home/Daniel Larison/Other States Don’t Respect Shows of “Strength” Directed Against Them

Other States Don’t Respect Shows of “Strength” Directed Against Them

Nile Gardiner pushes the Romney line on Russia:

The Russians respect only boldness and strength, both of which have been in markedly short supply at the Obama White House.

Like Romney, when Gardiner says “boldness and strength” he means “provocation and aggression.” What Gardiner calls resolve is in practice more often a form of recklessness. Gardiner presumably believes that the previous administration’s Russia policy was characterized by “boldness and strength,” but no one would seriously conclude that the Russian government had any great respect for Bush or the policies he pursued. The U.S. tried showing Russia “boldness and strength” in the 2000s, and relations between our governments deteriorated rapidly. Our “boldness” included pushing for NATO expansion deeper into ex-Soviet space while lecturing Russia over its internal affairs. Our “strength” involved launching an unnecessary invasion of another country, which is one of the many things that contributed to poor relations between the U.S. and Russia. Gardiner’s preferred confrontational approach has been tried and it resulted in failure.

The problem here isn’t just Gardiner gets Russia policy badly wrong. He repeats one of the most worn-out cliches of modern conservative thinking on foreign policy, which is that “the only thing” that another regime/nation/group respects is strength. In fact, many other governments tend not to respect shows of “strength” when these are perceived to be antagonistic and insulting. What Western hawks see as a demonstration of confidence and “resolve” is often something that breeds suspicion in other governments. These governments don’t respond to such “resolve” with respect, but rather with mistrust. It’s an old hawkish stand-by that “weakness is provocative,” and in certain cases it can be, but it is much more likely to be the case that deliberate provocation is provocative. To the extent that current Russia policy has avoided deliberately provoking Russia, it has been modestly successful. Gardiner and his preferred presidential candidate want to reverse that modest success.

P.S. Shouldn’t Gardiner be required to acknowledge that he is one of Romney’s foreign policy campaign advisers when he comments on U.S. foreign policy, especially when he is making an argument that could have come from the candidate himself?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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