Letters to the Editor
In his article, "Gunboat Diplomacy," in the May 12 issue (In The National Interest, Volume 3, Issue 19), Professor Russell Crandall takes the liberty of painting me up as some kind of knee-jerk "no-war" intellectual without knowing - or apparently even wanting to know - what my views truly are on the use of military force. If he had taken the trouble to do a bit of research, Professor Crandall would have discovered that I supported, in public statements and writings, the US military interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia. These were interventions whose aim was to save lives. The establishment of democracy was not at issue in any of these instances. For that matter, neither was it in Grenada in 1983, where the publicly-stated reason for President Reagan's order to send in troops was to save the lives of American citizens being held hostage by the regime.
Where the lives of US citizens or large numbers of other people are in immediate risk, the United States and the broader international community have a duty to act, if not necessarily through military force in all instances, then at the very least in some other effective way. Tragically, the US and others failed that duty in Rwanda in 1994 and may fail it again in Darfur (western Sudan) this year.
But stopping mass starvation, mass killings or genocide at the barrel of a gun is one thing; bringing democracy by force to a people unprepared for it is quite another. The former is something that can and must be done. The latter is so much of a chimera that even the Bush Administration did not proclaim it a serious goal until Iraq's much touted weapons of mass destruction were found to be non-existent.
Although Ira Straus (In The National Interest, Volume 3, Issue 25) complains about zero-sum games and Cold War mentalities in dealing with Central Asia, his comments are the most poignant example of that other Cold War mentality - namely that America and Russia were equivalent and basically shared the same objectives. Just as the equivalence and convergence paradigms during the Cold War proved simplified and mistaken, so the post-9/11 equivalence theory for Washington and Moscow needs to be exposed for its misleading assumptions and potentially damaging repercussions. Here are just a few examples of our profound differences based not on idealistic assumptions, but on the reality of state policy:
· America is a genuine democracy that seeks to project human rights and political pluralism. Putin's Russia is a "managed democracy" (the newest version of "democratic centralism") that has little interest in human rights and pluralism among its neighbors.
· America seeks to combat international terrorism because it sees this phenomenon as a major security threat to itself and its allies. Russia uses the threat of international terrorism to its advantage to crush Chechen independence, undermine the sovereignty of the south Caucasian and Central Asian states and to steadily increase the power and reach of the modern-day Chekists in Moscow.
· America seeks partnerships with allies and collaborators (including Russia) in order to control or counter regional instabilities. Russia tolerates arrangements with America either because it is currently too weak to oppose them or because it seeks to pragmatically use U.S. capabilities to leverage and strengthen its own positions.
By naively assuming that America's and Russia's "national interests" are equivalent or compatible, we are primarily playing into the hands of a weakened imperial power that has openly revived its ambitions to restore the "Soviet space" and to deny the sovereign national interests of its neighbors. In a recent tour of Central Asia, Putin made it very clear that he is working to "restore what was lost with the fall of the Soviet Union" on a "new, modern basis." If mishandled, a half-baked "positive-sum" approach by the United States may actually speed up Putin's timetable and undermine our own long-term interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus.