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The Ghosts of Gorbachev

gorbachev1203.jpgIt seems that with all the unlikely optimistic expectations for a thaw between Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, we are seeing Mikhail Gorbachev getting thrown into the debate like it was going out of style.  It seems that as much as the American observers insist that there is not a current Cold War between Russia and the United States, one can sense that there is a strong appetite for a Cold War solution.  This latest Gorbachev nod from Anton Fedyashin on PostGlobal is a couple of days old, but still worth reading:

Mikhail Gorbachev came to Washington last month as part of a tour inspired by the promise of a thaw in U.S.-Russian relations. The former General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and first Soviet President met with American academics and officials, including President Obama and Vice President Biden. Throughout his trip, he argued that the United States and Russia share three fundamental goals, all of which will be impossible to achieve without working as equal partners: controlling nuclear weapons, dealing with Islamic extremism, and cooperating on environmental issues. But finding common ground from which to negotiate won’t be easy.

Washington and Moscow will not agree on all the details, but Russian cooperation is indispensable on all three issues. The two countries have a long tradition of arms negotiations. Moscow has leverage over countries where the U.S. has lost credibility. And the Siberian forests, together with Brazil’s rainforest, constitute the planet’s second lung. The Obama administration has offered the Russians an open hand and Mr. Medvedev has reciprocated the kind gesture. Now begins the hard business of finding points of contact. (…)

The Obama administration has a unique chance to regain the fullconfidence of states that would like to become its partners byabandoning the universalist ideology that characterized the previousadministrations. It doesn’t have to abandon America’s ideals to dothat. Western judgments of Russia’s progress towards an open anddemocratic society have focused on Western ideals instead of Russia’sown tradition. Russia has come a long way from Stalin’s purges and thenumbing Party-enforced conformity of the Brezhnev era. EncouragingRussia rather than judging it should become the State Department’sdominant foreign policy vector. Indeed, it was a strange combination toencourage democracy in a country with one hand and surround it withNATO members with the other. By the second Bush term, allying oneselfwith U.S. interests meant certain political suicide for Russianliberals. The moral of this tale is that universalist projects losetheir appeal when they are enforced. If the current détente lasts longenough the Russian liberals can once again look to the U.S. as a model.Indeed, as President Obama and Mr. Gorbachev have both argued, securityand civil liberties do not have to be mutually exclusive. Quite thecontrary, they cannot exist apart.