As Russia moves towards a quick absorption of the Crimean Peninsula, and trades individual sanctions measures with the U.S. and E.U., American pundits and Republican pols (including, today, the 2012 GOP nominee for president) will inevitably continue to demand magical action from Barack Obama, and blame him for failing to deliver it. As I always say, you can’t take the politics out of politics, and it’s been a half-century at least since politics really did “end at the water’s edge,” to cite the old cliche.
But something we can and should warn against on everybody’s part is the drift back into Cold War imagery: you know, cartoons and columns postulating a Superpower Standoff between Uncle Sam and the Russian Bear; depictions of the Kremlin as a source of incorrigible evil like Dracula’s Tower, comparisons of Putin to Stalin (or for that matter, of Obama to that supposed strategic genius, Ronald Reagan), a revival of Tom Clancy movies–it’s all deeply destructive to clear thinking. It’s been a long while since I’ve agreed with National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg on anything, but he’s right in issuing the same warning, albeit with an obnoxious chaser about the futility of “soft power.”
Russia is a large nation-state with a shaky political and economic system, a lot of energy resources, a pivotal strategic position athwart the Eurasian land-mass, and public health and environmental problems Americans can barely begin to imagine. It is not the old USSR; it is not the steward of a global revolutionary tradition; it is not in a zero-sum competition with the United States for global supremacy;’ and even if if were to fully swallow up Ukraine, it would be significantly smaller than its predecessor, with no Warsaw Pact to amplify its military power.
There’s still plenty to argue about with respect to U.S. and Western policy towards Russia. But let’s let the USSR stay buried where it belongs, and along with it the tendency in this country to see Red in every crisis.