America and the Russians

Some time ago, frequent visitor, Karl from Germany, asked why it is that Americans view the Russians as a permanent adversary. This is something many Europeans find puzzling, given that the Cold War has been over for a generation now. Russia is no more of a threat to America than Sweden, but our leaders still want to wrestle the bear. China on the other hand, is a threat, but America’s foreign policy elite loves China.

From the outside, it confirms what most of the world thinks about America, which is the country is run by provincial bumpkins not equipped to conduct proper diplomacy. That’s certainly part of, but not the main reason for these inconsistencies. There’s a cultural aspect to it that is a product of the fact America is a very young country. When Europe was playing chess with Napoleon, America was still working out the basics of government.

For most of American history, there was one foreign policy item and that was how best to avoid having a foreign policy. In 1821 John Quincy Adams famously said that America “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 recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.”

This mild form of isolationism was the core of American political thought into the 20th century. Most Americans at the dawn of the 20th century wanted nothing to do with Europe and the scheming of the Continental powers. Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives were the first to start talking about America having an active role in world affairs. The success of the Spanish-American War was too much for the Yankee missionaries to resist.

So, America’s first large scale foray into an activist foreign policy was the Great War. The fact that it was an unpopular war, confirmed that it was a mistake for American to let itself get involved in European politics and chicanery. The result was a return of traditional American isolationism. By the 1930’s, the one thing the political class of America had in common was a deep desire to stay out of European affairs and thus world affairs.

Obviously, that all changed with the Second World War. Unlike the Great War, this one ended with a decisive result. Even better, from an American perspective, is that we won! Even better, we stood alone as the protector of the civilized world. For a country whose dominant region saw itself as a city upon a hill, the result of WW2 felt like confirmation, a fulfillment of the covenant, to the people running the country.

That last bit is the key to understanding Americans. We are, for the most part, a moralistic people. We believe in good guys and bad guys. Hitler and Tojo made great bad guys. The Soviets were near perfect bad guys. They were foreign enough to feel like the other and they were a bunch of God-hating commies. Every American over the age of 45 grew up thinking the Russians were evil.

The Cold War was the birth of the American foreign policy establishment. It was created in response to war and evolved afterward in the context of the competition with the Soviets. The period immediately after the war is what made American diplomacy. Our duty as the keeper of the flame was to stop the Bolsheviks from turning out the lights in Europe and by extension, civilization.

All of the old hands in the current American foreign policy establishment are former Cold Warriors. Similarly, their proteges grew up believing the Russians were the great adversary. There are other elements to this, but the main culture of the US foreign policy elite is an instinctive distrust of the Russians. Like a tribe bred for certain traits, it has been generations since anyone with warm feelings for the Russian has been in the club. Distrust of the Russians is baked into the DNA at this point.

This multi-generational competition with Russia is also the source of our blindness to China. In the Cold War, it became an article of faith that China could be brought over to our side. Nixon going to China was viewed at the time as a great triumph. A billion people were about to turn from godless communism and join us in opposition to the Soviets. The subsequent trade dealings with the Chinese feels like confirmation to our foreign policy elite.

What is happening in America today is sort of a delayed response to “winning” the Cold War. Close to three generations of Americans were trained to be Cold Warriors. Three generations of American voters were trained to be either “socialists” or “capitalists”, Blue Team or Red Team. Even though the rationale for this construct fell away a long time ago, there was too much invested to just toss it all away. But it is now starting to crumble, like an abandon building.

Obama, for all his defects, started out trying to change the relationship with Russia. He failed, but that may have been timing, as much as his own incompetence. Trump is clearly ready to try a new approach to the Russians. The next generation of foreign policies thinkers are also rethinking American diplomacy, including the relationship with Russia. Even so, these things move slowly. Old men are never fond of seeing their life’s work abandoned by their proteges.

34 thoughts on “America and the Russians

  1. Many people in our Dept. of State wish to stick it to Russians for injuries inflicted by Cossacks to their ancestors in then tsarist Ukraine. Various Kagans, Cohens, Nulands ( real name Nudelman) simply want to get even with Russians. Spengler wrote about it some time ago.

  2. Spengler has some interesting views on the Civil War. Couldn’t say if they are accurate or now; just interesting.

  3. “…Americans…are, for the most part, a moralistic people.” I think this is what has driven Americas more than anything else in almost everything you have done in your history. I am currently watching a series on your Civil War by Ken Burns which I must say is incredible. I had no idea you managed to obliterate 2% of your own population over such a polarized subject as slavery. In defining what drives Americans or at least their motives, “moralistic” would explain a great deal.

    If you take the American moralistic approach, and apply it directly to what Chancellor Merkel is doing with regards to the refugees, her decisions suddenly makes sense. If an American president did the same thing, no one would think anything of it. But for a German, it’s absolutely confusing.

    Consider humanitarian assistance for Haiti during their recent earthquake disaster – while Germans (and Europeans) were investigating the situation, planning and preparing to help, Americans were already in the air, and had boots on the ground handing out food and water and setting up tents. Back in the US, people were spontaneously taking up collections for food, clothing and financial assistance.

    Frau Merkel did exactly the same thing with the Syrian refugees crisis; she reacted from a moralistic approach. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the logistics to support her decision in the way Americans do nor did she have the understanding of the German people, which is why this entire situation has become a national disaster.

    Looking at your history, Americans tend to “leap before they look” not because you lack the ability to think out a situation, but because you are reacting to a nearly instinctive moralistic approach of “this isn’t right and we need to get there and help”.

    Very interesting.

    • It’s tempting to think “moralistic” means “simplistic.” That’s an error. For instance, most Americans look at Merkel and see nothing but irresponsible virtue signalling. We call it grace on the cheap. She gets to look like the Great Mother to her peers in the ruling class, while you guys get the bill for it in the form of train station full of horny Syrian men groping your women.

      As far as the Civil War, it had less to do about slavery than they would have you believe. Northern whites had a disdain for Southern whites going back to the English Civil War. The Tidewater colonies were founded by Cavaliers, while New England was founded by lemon sucking Roundheads. This dynamic of “good whites” (The north) hating “bad whites” (the south) has animated much of American history since the founding.

      • Ken Burns is obsessed with race. It colors (pardon me!) everything he does. Most goodthinkers in the US believe the Civil War was about slavery- slavery was wrapped up in the war, of course, but was more catalyst than cause.

      • No, I would not consider Americans as simplistic. Superficial, yes, but not necessarily simplistic. The contrast has to do with the way Americans approach a problem and the way Germans approach the same problem. We are often more cautious, and Merkel is known for not “shooing from the hip”. That’s why her shift in thinking is more American with regards to this issue.

        Is the Ken Burns version of the Civil War seriously biased in one way or another?

        • Burns is a far-left ideologue who never strays from his Leftist views. All his “documentaries”, as well-produced as they are, are filled with either persistent undertones of statism (his worship of FDR, which I could hardly sit through without vomiting) pro-femisist (his glorification of the suffragettes and his absolute refusal to get into to the blatant lesbianism of Eleanor Roosevelt) or outright lies of omission and commission (his vilification of the South and refusal to dig into the the underlying reason behind the Civil War {not slavery but Federalism vs. Statism}).

          Even his two part series on Lewis and Clarke is filled with Sakajaweia (sp.) worship and commentary by Leftist women and an American Indian obsessed with the “noble savage” routine all to leave one with the underlying message that maybe, just maybe, the Louisiana Purchase and the expansion Westward was racist, xenophobic and a bad, bad thing that perhaps we should all feel some guilt and blame for.

          About the only thing he’s ever done without this is “Baseball” and even that is filled with how terrible it was that “white baseball” excluded blacks and caused the Negro Leagues (read:Apartheid), and excoriated Judge Landis who, in truth, cleansed the league of gamblers and mob influence.

          He is the cinematic equivalent of the New York Times.

      • Slavery was the sizzle. Federalism vs. states rights was the steak. That was the big question that had to be settled. State wants to break from Uncle Sam? Nope. Can’t let you do that.
        Following the battle of Antietam (9/1862), when the war was in need of some additional enthusiasm after heavy casualties, Lincoln astutely added Emancipation as a compelling reason to keep fighting by gaining the moral high ground. More importantly, it was done as a gambit to keep Britain & France from recognizing the Confederacy.
        Very successful political move.
        Ask 100 Americans why Civil War was fought. 97 will either not know about the war or say “slavery”. Not necessarily incorrect, merely incomplete.

        • With regards to the Civil War, I was always under the impression the intention of freeing the slaves had little to do with equality and their freedom, and more to do with Lincoln’s attempt to destroy the southern economy by removing their primary means of labor. Given that the southern economy was heavily dependent upon farming, while the north was already heavily industrialized. The collapse of the south would have made secession economically unviable, and the north could have afforded to have paid for unification. It seems despite blacks gaining their freedom, the Democrats have done an excellent job of maintaining the status quo even today.

          • Karl, the War Between The States was fought not to free the black man, but to enslave the white man. The evidence can be found by carefully scrutinizing the 14th, 16th, 17th, and 19th Amendments, and key Supreme Court decisions throughout the late 19th/early 20th century. The 14th Amendment is the foundational “document” of the modern Federal United States.

      • @ theZman – Nice article, thanks for taking the time to write it. There’s been a shift in Germany as the older, per-war Germans have been fading away and the collective hatred of the atrocities done by Russian soldiers leaves with them. Today, more and more Russians have immigrated to Germany and their engineers and specialists are working as hard as the average German, sending their kids to German schools and embracing all things German. Russians actually fit in quite well and embrace our culture and language. So younger Germans have a more positive, less fearful attitude towards the Russians today than that of their Grandfathers.

        • I’ve always felt kinda bad for the Russian people.

          They seem like my kind of folks, for the most part, and their humor meshes well with ours around these parts (redneck country in Missouri), but they just keep getting fucked over by one government after another.

          First they got asshole Mongols, then asshole Czars, then asshole Commies, and now asshole mobster Oligarchs.

          The poor bastards can’t even buy a break. It’s no wonder they drink themselves to death and drive like maniacs. I’d be less worried about dying horribly (just like they are) if that’s all I had to look forward to.

          Plus the weather sucks.

          But even through all that, the people seem nice enough to me. I’d probably get along better with them folks from Siberia than leftist turds from Seattle or DC.

          It’d be nice if they could catch a break vis a vis their government though. At least Putin seems to genuinely love his country, which is more than can be said for better than half of western “leaders”.

    • Don’t leave out the part about the people streaming in not being actual refugees! That’s what makes it all so funny. That you can’t see that Merkel is a demented old crone treating Germany like a house full of cats, is the cherry on top.

      • Yes, that is really the crux of the problem. Had we provided transportation, housing and had the logistics in place to control the Syrian refugees from point A to point B, this would not have been an issue. Instead, it quickly turned into a free for all which no one really expected.

        • Again, Karl– these are NOT “refugees”!! This is blindingly obvious from the demographics. Refugee populations are largely composed of women, children, elderly, and infirm. Refugee men under the age of 50 are typically fathers accompanying their wives and/or children. These “Syrians” are fit, healthy, single young men between the ages of 18 and 35. That is what an invading army looks like!!
          You seem to be in serious denial of the facts. Wake up!!

    • Invest in the time to read Russell Weigley”s “The American Way of War” Along with a very readable history of conflicts from the Revolution to Vietnam, it will also provide insight on how that “moralistic” approach impacted how the Unitd States prosecuted its wars.

  4. I’m 38 years old, Zman, and I remember from 4th grade on seeing Soviet Union on all my History and Social Studies maps, with the whole USSR shaded in red, so your over 45 years old deal may be wrong. I grew up at the tail-end of the Cold War and remember watching the fall of the Berlin wall on the news; that really impacted my young mind. I believe my generation was the last generation to be taught the truth about communism, patriotism for America, and facts(ish) about history. I grew up with a very healthy fear of the Soviet Union and a deep love for America. And now, as an adult, I have both fear and respect for Mother Russia. Russia loves her “Strong Man” leaders, and I don’t blame them. It’s better than the limp-wristed, cigarette-smoking Kenyan we have squatting in the White House for nearly 8 years.

  5. My understanding of what the Russians do after they conquer a territory appears to be very medieval, even today. They rape, pillage, and kill anyone who does not welcome their presence as a conquering army, and they steal everything that can be moved or shipped. I know that the U.S. media does not hesitate to lie when it suits them, but what I have been told is that the Russians still have pursued such a scorched-earth strategy in some of the captured areas of the Ukraine that refuse to peacefully submit, and also similar things in parts of Afghanistan and Syria in recent decades and years. Certainly the plethora of YouTubes of Russian drivers suggests that the Russian male is quick to anger and violence, and that the basic attitude is that the strongest one in the fight prevails, no matter who is right or wrong.

    It appears that Russians have lived for so many centuries under regimes defined by extreme violence in the name of the Czar or of the State, that the national attitude, as it has filtered down to the individual, even today, suggests an attitude of singularly extreme violence and aggression if provoked. Perhaps I am all wrong, and have been told a bill of goods. Can others who know more, without the filter of the U.S. media, chime in?

      • Even so, the frozen white slaves of the Soviets did great things, Gagarin was the first man in space.
        What did the Golden Horde leave behind? Charles Bronson- though that might just make up for it.

    • You are exactly correct. I know that war is Hell. I know that rape, although an atrocity, is part of the spoils of war. But what the Russians did to the German women during WWII was absolutely reprehensible. They raped little girls and old women alike. And if any of the German men attempted to stop their rape, they would take 50 villagers out, line them up and execute them, for every Russian soldier that was harmed. The German volk really didn’t deserve what they got. Of course, far more than rape was inflicted on to the Germans during that war.

      • What do you think the Germans did when they were occupying parts of Russia? Hold tea parties? Change your nick to 8 Miles High, it’s more accurate 😛

        • Like the American soldiers, Germans were not known for raping women. I suspect there were isolated cases as there are perverts and rapists in every society. But generally Americans, British and Germans held a higher moral ground than to lower themselves to such a thing. It may be due to the cultural differences between the east and west. The Japanese were infamous for sexual abuse everywhere they went just like the Russians.

  6. The U.S. helping the Russians in WWII just to have the ungrateful fukkers try and subvert our government, and then stealing the H-Bomb plans turned us against them. And with good reason. They are worthless sneaky drunks. Too bad the Mongols left a single one of them alive. The red Chinese will implode soon, and be too busy with riots and civil wars to be much of a threat to us.

    • The Russians were here subverting our country since FDR’s ascension. Being their allies later simply spread things up. The Russians stole the A-bomb plans not the H-bomb, which they developed independently.

  7. Don’t forget that US sent troops to assist the White (Czarist) troops v Communist Reds in July of 1918 by President Wilson – ~ 5K US troops known as the American North Russia Expeditionary Force, or the Polar Bear Expedition, and ~ 8K US troops known as the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. Josef Stalin was one of the seven members of the first Politburo. Then there was the uneasy alliance with Uncle Joe for the Second Great War, including General Patton wanting to combine with German forces and roll Uncle Joe back to Moscow. As usual, the majority of Americans have forgotten their history, or never learned it to begin with. Not as eloquently stated as many here.

    • General Patton said that in WWII, while in Germany, he was repulsed by the behavior of the Russian soldiers, that they were more like animals, sons-of-bitches and drunkards. He detested having to work with them.

  8. The so-called Sino-Soviet Split in the early 1960s gave American policy makers the idea to cozy up to China as a counterbalance to the Russians. This set the stage for Nixon’s overtures and subsequent trade relations with China. China’s current territorial ambitions in the South China sea are ramping up friction with the USA, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, so relations with China will sour a bit. We wait to see what effect that has on trade relations.

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