Why couldn’t the USA and Russia be friends?

The video is a 2015 lecture by political scientist John J. Mearsheimer.

After the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings, I thought the Cold War had ended for good, and the USA and post-Communist Russia would be partners.  A lot of other people, in the USA and in Russia, too, expected the same thing.  Why didn’t it happen?

The answer is in the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which was a 1992 policy document prepared by Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  The document said that the way to keep the United States safe was to maintain the U.S. position as top nation and to prevent any other nation from becoming equal in power.

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.  

This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.  [snip]

The U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.  

In non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.  We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.

This is the rationale for transforming NATO from an anti-Soviet alliance into an anti-Russian alliance.  The threat of Russia in the 1990s was not that it was hostile, but that it was potentially powerful.  

Here’s what George F. Kennan, said to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 1998 about enlarging NATO.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. ”I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.  I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves.

“We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”

“What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,” added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed ”X,” defined America’s cold-war containment policy for 40 years.

”I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

“And Russia’s democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we’ve just signed up to defend from Russia,” said Mr. Kennan, who joined the State Department in 1926 and was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in 1952.

“It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are – but this is just wrong.”

In 2014, the U.S. supported an anti-Russian coup in Ukraine.  The U.S. government encouraged the new government to seek membership in NATO and treated it as if it already was in NATO.

John J. Mearsheimer, a political scientist, gave a lecture in 2015, shown in the video above, explaining why this was a mistake.  He said, “The West is leading Ukraine down the primrose path and the end result is Ukraine is going to get wrecked.”

A current Ukrainian meme

Ukraine and the new NATO members felt emboldened to defy Russia because they thought the United States would protect them and back them up.  

But the U.S. government and the other NATO allies didn’t have the capability or the will to protect them.  The various U.S. administrations never thought they would actually be called upon to fight for their new allies.   Putin called their bluff.

We Americans have the excuse that Ukraine is not officially a member of NATO.   But what if Russia attacked a NATO nation and took over some small territory.  

What could the USA do besides impose more economic sanctions?  History shows sanctions do not deter aggression.  They hurt the common people, but not the rulers.

I imagine that all the east European allies, if they had known a few years go what they know now, would have been willing to settle for what President Putin proposed in his ultimatum: (1) No NATO membership for Ukraine, (2) Autonomy of Luhansk and Donetz, (3) No missile weapons in Poland and Rumania, etc.  None of these things would be impossible to live with.

The Wolfowitz Doctrine said that the way to make United States secure. is to through world domination.  The reality is just the opposite.  Pursuit of this goal has drained American military and economic strength and raised up new enemies.

None of this is intended to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  The invasion is legally and morally wrong and will lead to deaths and suffering of innocent people.  

For whatever it’s worth, I condemn Putin.   He is ruthless.  He is authoritarian.  He lives in a billion-dollar palace financed by graft.    But what good is my condemnation?  It doesn’t affect anything.

Of course nothing I write on this blog affects the Biden administration either.  But Biden’s administration is my government and I have a responsibility as a citizen to speak up about it, as futile as my words may turn out to be.

The lesson: Nations and individuals should not make promises they cannot keep, or threats they are unable to carry out.


In Unflinching Speech, Biden Vows That Putin Will “Bear the Consquences” for War by Charlotte Klein and Eric Lutz for Vanity Fair.

Russia Moves Troops Into Donbass by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Unjustified and unprovoked? Russia’s ongoing military operation in Ukraine by Gilbert Doctorow.

Kiev Falling: It Did Not Have to Happen by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.


Afterthought.  I didn’t think Putin would actually invade Ukraine because I thought it was more to his advantage to threaten invasion than to actually invade.  I also thought it didn’t make sense to keep an invasion force in being for weeks and thereby give the enemy time to prepare.  I was wrong (as I often am).   I suppose he was giving the USA and its allies one last chance to grant his demands.

Another thing I thought was that if he did invade, it would have been just to guarantee the security of the Donbas republics.  But that wouldn’t have benefitted him.  Ukraine would have been split into a West Ukraine and an East Ukraine, like Germany during the Cold War, with the larger and richer part aligned with the West.

The third thing I overlooked is that Putin’s goal is to roll back NATO and end the USA’s position as the world’s only dominant superpower.  It will take more than overrunning Ukraine to accomplish that goal.

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One Response to “Why couldn’t the USA and Russia be friends?”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Putin had best check his six. China is in a much better position to try and displace the US as number 1 than Russia is. Russia’s economy is terrible and his demographics are worse. He could very easily end up as China’s sock puppet.


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