What are the reasons for the lingering hostility toward Russia?
First, it is hard for those politicians and commentators to get used to the thought that after the victory in the Cold War and the de facto liquidation of Russia in the 1990s, Russia all of a sudden became an important factor in world politics, while a new Russian leader—strong, confident and charismatic—is demanding the deserved spot for his country on the world stage as well as respect for it in international circles, assertively acting and as a rule, being right in his actions. This was so when he proclaimed his opposition, in unison with the Germans and the French, to the U.S. adventures in Iraq. Today it is an open secret that Libya, too, was a grave mistake perpetrated by the American administration. Putin staunchly held his position against arbitrary regime change around the world when nobody knew what regimes would sprout to take the place of the old ones, and he still maintains this position with regard to Syria.
Second, the actions of the Russian leadership sit badly with a substantial part of the Washington establishment that was midwifed in the 1990s and nurtured on ideas of American unilateral global domination. This part of the establishment finds it hard to accept that someone might stand in the way of such domination.
Third, this same part of the establishment also finds it unpalatable to agree with the famous assertion of Lord Acton that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. They cannot see that the saying holds true not just inside a country, but also internationally. This is why frequently, when Russia goes against the U.S. on the international arena, it does so not out of spite, but in the goodwill pursuit to prevent grave mistakes by their partners, of which the past twenty years abound. The U.S., Dimitri Simes has observed, has acquired a “democracy-promotion complex” that is as noxious and dangerous for American foreign policy as the military-industrial complex of which Eisenhower famously warned. New realities need new approaches, which in turn need paradigmatic changes in the worldviews in America and the world; something that not everyone in Washington is prepared to make, be it in analytical, political or journalistic circles. The absence of such a paradigmatic change is a serious obstacle to objective and sober evaluations of what is happening in the world, and especially in Russia.
American conservatives should instead recognize Putin is the same type of “great communicator” that Reagan represented—a bold leader and visionary who connects directly with the people and easily explains complex issues of domestic and foreign policy. This is what accounts for his perpetually high rating and the high level of trust that the electorate has in him. Putin is charismatic, strong, autonomous, confident, decisive and effective, and has demonstrated all of these qualities with his actions, not his words. These qualities he has showcased in domestic and especially in foreign policy. He exhibited them in his opposition to the Iraq and Libya interventions. He rescued President Obama from a similar fiasco in Syria. Putin further stated his attitude towards the Arab Spring, and has been constructive in his handling of the problem with the Iranian nuclear program. We can continue the list ad infinitum.
At the end of the 1990s, William Safire in his New York Times column turned to Madeleine Albright and Evgeny Primakov and said, “Do not be ashamed to say that you are Jews.” I would like to turn to O’Reilly, Krauthammer, Senator McCain, Dennis Miller and others. I would like to appeal to them paraphrasing Safire: “Gentlemen, do not be afraid to say that you love Putin, that you dream of such a leader for the United States.” I am confident that this will remove the heavy psychological split in which you exist. It will ease your neurosis and you will cease to poison the atmosphere of Russian-American relations.
Andranik Migranyan is Director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation.