Mark Salter excels in his self-congratulatory moral preening:

It is not chauvinism to claim we are morally superior to them [Russia and China]. We are, and the proof is in our behavior. We are imperfect, and transgress against our own values on occasion. But we remain, flaws and all, the best hope of mankind. We have a sense of justice that can spur us to action. We care for human dignity. We are outraged by the murder of innocents.

This is more than a little overstated, but for the sake of argument let’s grant that everything Salter says here is true. Having granted that, what is his point? That our system is morally superior to that of authoritarian, one-party states? That’s true, but it doesn’t change any of the political realities he’s describing. Other than making Salter feel better, what is this argument supposed to accomplish? As far as I can tell, he wants to worsen relations with Russia and China because “we are as different from them as night and day.”

At the end, he insists that “we will be adversaries until we share the same values,” but that is false in a couple of ways. Russia does not necessarily have to be an adversary of the United States. There was a time when Russia was one European power with which the U.S. had quite good relations, and that was when Russia was ruled by the tsars. No one would pretend that America and Russia had the “same values,” but there was no natural antagonism between our countries. If Russia did have the “same values,” there is no reason to think that this would cause our interests to converge. It is possible that a liberal democratic Russia would be more assertive and less cooperative. As long as Russia wants to retain influence in Syria and opposes Western interventions in the internal affairs of other countries, it makes no difference what political values prevail inside Russia.

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