Editors' note: What follows is the fifth part of an exchange on Russian-Western relations following from David Kramer and Lilia Shevtsova's monthly column at The American Interest Online (see especially their February 21 essay, "Here We Go Again: Falling for the Russia Trap"). On March 12, Thomas Graham responded with his essay, "In Defense of a Strategic Approach to Russia." On March 29, Andrew Wood joined the conversation with “Russian and Western Views of National Interests.” On April 4, David Kramer replied to Graham with "The Debate Is On." Further contributions are forthcoming.
I am pleased that David Kramer and I have managed to attract our opponents to discussing Russia and U.S. policies with respect to it. I am even more pleased that Thomas Graham, whom I consider one of the most subtle and thoughtful Western analysts of Russia, responded to our article. Paradoxically, Graham’s response, entitled “In Defense of a Strategic Approach to Russia”, as well as his other thoughts on Russia, provide additional arguments in support of our position. We can only thank Graham for helping us to justify our views.
Essentially, Graham’s essay is a manifesto for a foreign policy school of thought that we will call, using his term, the “American strategists.” The “strategists” determined Washington’s policy toward Russia during President Obama’s first term and will most likely continue to do into his second term. It is important to enumerate the ideas held by this school, since they reflect the way a large segment of the American political establishment looks at foreign policy.
First, Graham’s main argument: that U.S. Russia policy should demonstrate “hard-nosed, consistent commitment to American interests.” One cannot agree more with this. Indeed Russia’s policy toward the United States should also be based on commitment to Russian interests. I will not argue with Graham’s definition of American interests. It is not a topic for a Russian citizen to opine on. But Graham somehow forgot to define American interests with respect to the outside world, apparently believing that these interests are clear enough on their own. Well, not to me. I would like to know to what extent the United States is committed to the preservation of the current world order and its post-World War II institutional architecture. I would like to know to what extent the United States is willing to support its reform. I would like to know whether Graham believes that continued support of the current model of liberal democracy is in America’s interests. Or, perhaps, he, like several authors of The American Interest and other critics of this model, thinks it should be revised. Graham does not discuss these issues. Having promised to clarify “America’s long-term national interests”, he immediately proceeds to define the mechanism of Russian-American relations: “the strategists’ ultimate goal is not cooperation for the sake of cooperation, but the creation of the balance of cooperation, competition and indifference that best advances American interests.” But what these interests are remains unclear. What if they contradict Russian interests so much that any sustainable cooperation between the two countries is impossible?
Actually, later in his essay Graham discusses the challenges the United States faces on the global stage: “Maintaining strategic stability; preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction; combating international terrorism;” and so forth. But he says nothing of the need to rethink the fundamental principles of global politics. Thus, we can conclude that the author believes that preserving the global status quo and the current model of liberal democracy should be America’s main goals. But if indeed this is the case, then the United States cannot claim to be a world leader. After all, being a leader means supporting progress and renewal, not fighting a rearguard action to preserve an antiquated status quo. If this is indeed what he means, then let us reconcile ourselves with this conclusion and stop expecting the United States to offer us something it cannot offer.
Graham’s next argument elaborates on his pragmatic approach to the American agenda. The author mentions “linkage”, which is “an inescapable component of U.S.-Russian relations.” He assures us that by this word he does not mean a crude quid pro quo—for instance, “sacrificing Georgia to Russia in exchange for its support on Iran.” But if not that, then what is “linkage” supposed to mean? It turns out it means “creating the atmosphere and shaping expectations to persuade Russia to act in ways that advance our goals.” In other words, Graham tells us that the United States does not necessarily have to sacrifice Georgia to Russia; it can simply pretend that it is doing so, and if Russia believes this (or plays along) it will in turn support the United States on Iran. Well, this is politics, I suppose, and unfortunately politics and Machiavellian tactics go hand in hand. However, what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander; Moscow will also seek to “shape expectations.” And the Kremlin is a much smoother operator when it comes to shaping expectations and disorienting its partners. This skill was on full display during the “reset” period, and during Medvedev’s presidency, both of which periods frustrated quite a few expectations in Washington. ...