We’ve come a long way since the days of John Quincy Adams, who had this to say about America:
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….
Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has indeed “been involved beyond the power of extrication” in the global “Game of Thrones.*” For four decades, most of the world chose either our banner or that of the Hammer and Sickle. Then, all of a sudden, the game changed.
The Soviets disappeared.
While the West cheered the end of the Cold War, and looked to spread its banner over the whole world, the Russians endured a decade of misery and disgrace. Powerful oligarchs carved up Russia’s resources, and the appearance of McDonalds in Moscow was akin to “spiking the ball” in sports. What to us looked like the triumph of liberalism and “the end of history” seemed instead to be the end of the world for the average Russian. Literally. The life expectancy for men dropped seven years, and the fertility rate since then has never returned to the ‘replacement average’ of 2.1 children per woman. As a result, the Russian population fell by 4 million between 1990 and today. For many, if that was what ‘freedom’ and ‘capitalism’ brought, who wanted it?
Vladimir Putin is a product of his KGB background and will to power. He can be calculating and ruthless, and undoubtedly there is blood on his hands. Few Americans would have our leaders rule as he does. But hard as it may be for us to understand, he is a popular leader in his homeland. From the Russian perspective, he rescued the nation from utter collapse, and regained some of its international standing. We have a habit of looking at the world only through our own standards, and cannot understand when reality refuses to comport with our view.
All of this lead-up is to say that **this article** is well worth your time. Seeking understanding of another viewpoint is not the same as validating that viewpoint. Recent history has not been kind to Russia: a communist revolution sandwiched between two world wars and bloody invasions, then a confused decade wandering in the wreckage of Stalinism, trying to understand what happened. Russia has never enjoyed the sense of security the U.S. has. Centuries of conflict has programmed paranoia of the outside world into the country’s DNA.
The mainstream media got a case of the vapors in February when President Trump noted that getting along with Russia is better than being at odds with them. That would seem a self-evident axiom. But we’re so used to shaping the international order of things we fail to realize there are many nations that are tired of that — Russia being chief among them.
We have indeed become “the dictatress of the world,” but that time is coming to an end. Fifteen years of wars around the world and a skyrocketing national debt will eventually see to that. Unless we learn to see other perspectives and avoid misunderstandings, we risk losing much more than just our seat at the head of the table.
(* – For the record, I have neither read the Game of Thrones novels nor watched it on HBO, but have a general gist of it to know it’s an apt metaphor.)