Since the late 1940s, Republicans have hurled the charge of “appeasement” at every Democratic President
Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton found themselves accused of “selling out” to the Soviet Union. The motive for this was usually attributed to cowardice–if not outright treason.
And now it’s the turn of President Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama
“The President is afraid of provoking Vladimir Putin,” U.S. Senator John McCain told Reuters. “Vladimir Putin is on the move because he has paid no price for his aggression.”
Another United State Senator who charges Obama with appeasement is Ted Cruz of Texas.
“Putin fears no retribution,” Cruz said on ABC News’ This Week. “Their policy has been to alienate and abandon our friends, and to coddle and appease our enemies.
“Putin is a KGB thug. When the protests began in Ukraine, the president should have stood unapologetically, emphatically for freedom. When the United States doesn’t speak for freedom, tyrants notice.”
It’s clear that the American Right–long aching for a chance to lob nuclear missiles at the former Soviet Union–is itching for the chance to do so now.
Yet America’s frustrations with Russia generally–and Putin in particular–long predate those of Barack Obama.
A major reason for this: America’s dealings with Russia have not always been as wise as they should have been.
In his memoir, Duty, Robert M. Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, candidly writes:
“I shared with [President Bush] my belief that from 1999 onward, the West, and particularly the United States, had badly underestimated the magnitude of Russian humiliation in losing the Cold War and then the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“The arrogance, after the collapse, of American government officials, academicians, businessmen, and politicians in telling the Russians how to conduct their domestic and foreign affairs…had led to deep and long-term resentment and bitterness.”
Convincing Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to allow a United Germany to enter NATO proved a major success, asserts Gates.
But moving quickly–after the collapse of the Soviet Union–to incorporate many of its former members into NATO was a serious mistake.
U.S. agreements with Romanian and Bulgarian governments to rotate [American] troops through bases in those countries was a needless provocation (especially since we never deployed the 5,000 troops in either country.”
Gates further notes that the United States later made an even worse mistake:
“Trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching. The roots of the Russian Empire trace back to Kiev in the ninth century, so that was an especially monumental provocation.
“Were the Europeans, much less the Americans, willing to send their sons and daughters to defend Ukraine or Georgia? Hardly.
“So NATO expansion was a political act, not a carefully considered military commitment.”
This “undermined the purpose of the alliance” and recklessly ignored “what the Russians considered their own vital national interests.”
Nor were relations between the United States and post-Soviet Russia helped by the naievity of President George W. Bush.
In June, 2001, Bush and Vladimir Putin met in Slovenia. During the meeting a truly startling exchange occurred.
President George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin
Putin, a former KGB Intelligence officer, had clearly done his homework on Bush. When he mentioned that one of the sports Bush had played was rugby, Bush was highly impressed.
“I did play rugby,” gushed Bush. “Very good briefing.”
But more was to come.
BUSH: Let me say something about what caught my attention, Mr. President, was that your mother gave you a cross which you had blessed in Israel, the Holy Land.
PUTIN: It’s true.
BUSH: That amazes me, that here you were a Communist, KGB operative, and yet you were willing to wear a cross. That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President. May I call you Vladimir?
Putin instantly sensed that Bush judged others–even world leaders–through the lens of his own fundamentalist Christian theology.
Falling back on his KGB training, Putin seized on this apparent point of commality to build a bond. He told Bush that his dacha had once burned to the ground, and the only item that had been saved was that cross.
“Well, that’s the story of the cross as far as I’m concerned,” said Bush, clearly impressed. “Things are meant to be.”
Afterward, Bush and Putin gave an outdoor news conference.
“Is this a man that America can trust?” Associated Press correspondent Ron Foumier asked Bush.
“Yes,” said Bush. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue.
“I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”
Of course, no one from the Right is now recalling such embarrassing words.
It’s far more politically profitable to pretend that all of America’s tensions with Russia began with the election of Barack Obama.
And to pretend that those tensions will vanish once another Right-wing President enters the White House.