Time for another Nixon-Kissinger style trip to Beijing—this time to Moscow


In 1972, exactly 43 years and four months
ago, newly elected President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor,
Henry Kissinger visited China. They met with Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou
Enlai. The stakes were high; easing our recognition of Taiwan as China was on
the menu, as was building consensus with ending the Vietnam War and inserting a
wedge in the close relationship between Russia and China, our two major
adversaries. 
 

It was a brave and highly risky move, but it
worked.
“Nixon going to
China” has since become a metaphor for an unexpected or uncharacteristic
action by a politician (Wikipedia). It’s long past time to make a similar
conciliatory move toward Moscow. We need another American president willing to
make a ‘brave and risky move.’


Nations move slowly. Their mistrusts are deep
and generally well-founded, but they do
move and America’s relationship with China today is that of a major trading
partner. They remain a communist country, but we are learning (painfully
slowly) that variances in political philosophy do not necessarily preclude
mutually beneficial relationships. We work with monarchies and dictators, left
as well as right-wing nations when it suits our purpose. Aggressive acts
between China and America are increasingly unlikely and our mutual political future
looks more bright than dim.

 

Contrast that with America’s unrelenting
isolation of Russia since the days when we were allies in WWII.
Yet there were
hopeful times. President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had
opened a back-channel dialog during his presidency, agreeing that the cost of
intransigence was unsustainable.
(Foreign Relations of
the United States, 1961–1963 Volume VI, Kennedy-Khrushchev Exchanges, Document
116, September 10, 1963) 
“The Soviet Government considered that things had
recently taken a turn for the better in the international situation and in
relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. With the signing of
the Test Ban Treaty and the exchange of views with Secretary Rusk, there had
developed a relaxation of tension and the prerequisite for the settlement of
other questions had been established. This could lead to a real turning point,
and the end of the cold war.”
A month later those
expectations were shattered by Kennedy’s assassination.
A half century later,
Soviet Premier Vladimir Putin helped President Barack Obama escape
disastrous confrontations in both Iran and Syria. The two men were becoming
close and a sense of mutual trust was building. 
That sense of intimacy was
shattered by the Ukraine Uprising and its follow-on military confrontations. Retaliatory
economic sanctions against Russia ensued. Once again a chance had been lost and
we can no longer abide a half-century between opportunities to bring Russia
close to Europe and the West.
Vladimir Putin may not be our wished-for
choice in negotiations, but neither was Chairman Mao and Putin is probably the best
we can hope for in Russia at the moment. He’s highly popular within his country
and in full control, both of which are necessary attributes to negotiation. On
our side, Barack Obama enjoys neither of those benefits, so his day is past and
it will be up to a newly elected president—some nineteen months from now—to
strike the bargain. But the bargain must be struck. Too much is at
stake for more time to be lost. 
Allow me an opinion, if you will:
Putin’s overriding
goal is for Russia to regain the stature it once held as a world-power. The
dissolution of the USSR in 1989 was both humiliating and debilitating. He
desperately wants Russia to be respected. There are those (and I am among them)
who feel that was inevitable in lieu of Russia’s expansion after WWII without the
economic resources to sustain it. It had (and has) enormous natural resources,
but its industry and agricultural base was (and is) creaky and dated. Russia
never recovered from its consecutive revolutions in 1905 and 1917, followed by
the creation of the USSR in 1922. 
Staggering and
without adequate financial resources (to say nothing of an economic or
industrial history) Hitler turned on Russia
in 1941 with a fury that absorbed
25 million Russian casualties before
it ended. Russia was barely habitable and Stalin, in a breathtakingly
short-sighted and ego-driven hissyfit, refused Marshall Plan aid. So Stalin
threw all its limited capital into nuclear arms and eventually Russia flushed
itself down the economic toilet. That was not Putin’s doing, but was most certainly
the legacy left to him.
Given the choices, he’s doing what he feels must be done to restore Russia and has been remarkably restrained (until Ukraine)
in his relations with the West. Granted, that includes letting Russian oligarchs
run off with state institutions, but the same happened in the Czech Republic
where I live and Vaclav Havel remains the darling of the Western world. 
But Czechs had a ‘Velvet Revolution’ and
Putin’s reward has been anything but that—dissolution of the USSR and shrinking
back to Mother Russia. That’s very understandable historically, but a hard pill
to swallow.
Since Ukraine, Russia had its assets frozen
and economic sanctions applied. Sanctions seldom discipline those they were
designed to control and usually trickle down (to use an ironic Reagan term) to
the already poor. They drive nations apart rather than together. Simply look at
Greece and witness the influence of Germany’s insistence on austerity.
Anyway, my point is
that we need to lend a hand (rather than the back of it) to Russia. We must end
this vicious and dangerous cycle with a huge, wounded and nuclear powered
country. The chips are high but the costs of bringing Russia into the game are
low. Cooperation is cheap and isolation is terribly expensive, both socially
and economically.
Ships of State move
slowly and sometimes awkwardly—but they move.
Far better to help Russia in that direction and sooner is immensely more profitable
(politically, socially and economically) than later. We’re already late by half a century.
Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton or any of the other
wild-card candidates, are you up for that? Nixon was a newly-elected president
when he went to China. He dubbed his visit “the week that changed the world” and was not far wrong.
Wal-Mart and IKEA can thank him for that and
perhaps you and I as well.

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