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Video: David Satter vs. Hart and Simes

Just when I thought I was all done posting video interviews from my last trip to Washington, I saw Bob’s post today about the Gary Hart and Dmitri Simes article about realism, interests, and the prospects for cooperation between the Obama Administration and Russia.  In response, I have gathered together some of the last scraps of the interview I shot with David Satter from the cutting room floor, as his comments strangely seem to engage almost in a direct dialogue with the Hart and Simes piece, especially in terms of debating realism (though the interview occured a month before this article was published).  Some of my questions to Satter stemmed from an article he published in Forbes in November 2008 containing advice for Obama on Russia, including the point to “ignore the realists.” 

Taken together, the video below and the Hart/Simes piece constitutes a real “throwdown” on the U.S.-Russia relationship in these next critical months.  Please leave your weapons at the door.


At the risk of pointing out the obvious, there are several odd and intriguing convergences of opinion andwide-open disagreements between these two camps.  One starting point is the source of these arguments. Simes, as usual, gets published by theNational Interest, the conservative bi-monthly published by the NixonCenter, with Henry Kissinger serving as the honorary chairman of thepublication.  Satter, who publishes widely, is also no stranger to theNational Review, which was William F. Buckley’s gift to the world.  Infact, you’re more likely to see convergence between the pages of theleftist weekly The Nation and some conservative magazines when it comesto Russia.

So within this strange world of powerful,arch-conservative opinion making, we have two pretty opposingperspectives on handling Russia … a trend which contributes to ourposition here that partisan politics are practically useless indiscussing such a complicated foreign policy issue as Russia.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some agreements.  Hart, Simes, and Satter all agree on one thing – that the basicgeopolitical interests of the United States and Russia are identical. Hart/Simes say that “a sober evaluation of vital U.S. and Russian interests suggests that in no area are they in fundamental conflict“while Satter says that both Moscow and Washington are keen to build abalance of power in Central Asia to put a check on China, and that “ultimately a crisis situation could arise in which the United States and Russia emerge as allies.
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Whereas Hart and Simes make a convincing case that the most importantthing for U.S.-Russia relations to move forward would be for Washingtonto drop any pretension that they can define Russia’s interests forthem, Satter appears to argue the diametric opposite.  One of the keydifferences between the two schools of thought we are seeing here ishow much responsibility for the deterioration of the relationship restson Washington’s shoulders.  Hart and Simes believe that the UnitedStates has a lot to atone for:  “we did not just lecture Russia, we assumed that Russian policy makers would take our lectures seriously and follow our guidance.” Meanwhile Satter appears to believe that the United States is not atall responsible for improper conduct in the relationship, and that theburden should be upon Moscow to take steps toward a consensual center.

Both approaches, in my humble opinion, seem too extremist.  Why must responsibility for what has happened and what should happen rest with only one party?  Furthermore, taking on the realism approach, Satter argues that “there is nothing realistic about the total absence of moral principles in international affairs” – point I believe is well taken – but then continues to suggest that any policymaker willing to make the trade-off in values for cooperation somehow stands to profit financially from this relationship with Russia.  I don’t think this claim makes very much sense, and seems like a conclusion driven by conspiracy ideation and paranoia.

There are also talking points from Hart/Simes which seem straight from Russia Today, such as the question “Are we holding the Russians to a higher standard of performance than we do other nations with whom we deal?”  It could be argued that Russia receives exceptional status, but in the other direction … didn’t Putin get invited to the Bush family home at Kennebunkport?  Didn’t the EU go ahead and hold PCA talks with Russia after the violation of ceasefire terms in Georgia?  This question will certainly attract some scorn from many parties, but it is precisely in the center of the debate.