In the Trump era, Russia has been all over the news thanks to the infamous Russia probe that dragged on for the last 2 years. The drama played out with a wave of conspiratorial assertions that Russia and Trump were working together to steal the 2016 election and effectively occupy the White House with a Russian asset.
Such claims would belong in an online conspiracy forum in a saner political era, however today they pass as talking points for mainstream Democrats and the journalistic class who support them. What we’re witnessing now is a push to stoke a new Cold War when it’s clear that Russia has abandoned the expansionist foreign policy and totalitarian domestic policy of its Soviet Union predecessor.
Former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, offered some interesting insights about U.S.-Russia relations in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. He acknowledges that U.S. sanctions alone aren’t going to change Russia. It will require a concerted effort both internally and abroad to ultimately see reforms occur in Russia. The country has its own problems with China, radical Islam, and even from citizens who want to see Russia transition to liberal democracy. Most importantly, Huntsman notes these sanctions will cut America off from Russia and have unintended consequences if they’re applied strongly enough.
Despite all the rhetoric coming from the media that Trump is a Moscow stooge, his administration has taken punitive measures against Russia in the form of sanctions. If this is proof of colluding with Russia, then the definition of collusion has changed in our sleep.
All things considered, Russia is an authoritarian state. However, America has aligned itself with authoritarian governments in the past such as Augusto Pinochet’s Chile. The U.S. government has still maintained amicable relations with Saudi Arabia, which is known for its brutality. In the former case, Chile was able to transition to democracy by the 1990s.
Not all countries will become liberal governments overnight though. That’s why diplomacy is a game of patience. We have to start questioning the effectiveness of sanctions, which have almost become a reflexive response to any country that is deemed to be D.C.’s enemy. Although not as bad as direct acts of belligerence, sanctions represent an escalation in hostilities that only strengthen rogue governments. A case can be made for targeted sanctions on specific government officials, but broad-based sanctions end up hurting regular citizens in the targeted countries. If the sanctions are severe enough, they will impoverish the population which makes them more receptive to demagoguery from their government.
It’s time for different approaches that use diplomacy and other forms of non-belligerent actions. The punitive sanction policy we have today is the result of a foreign policy that is guided by defense industry interests, and not national interests. Not all nations are like the U.S. and the West. That’s the nature of international politics. Disparities in both economic and political development exist, and leaders will have to maneuver around these differences. But let’s not pretend that indiscriminately strong-arming nations who deviate from our standards will somehow make things right. Eventually, these punitive actions will have diminishing returns and create detrimental effects.
Just look at America’s foreign policy during the last two decades.