Washington’s interventionist “blob,” as it has been called, prospers most when the U.S. has an enemy. The Soviet Union was the dominant threat during the Cold War, justifying an ever‐expanding national security state. North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and the People’s Republic of China added extra menace. The military‐industrial‐intellectual complex steadily grew, consuming all before it. Few benefitted more than Washington’s think tank warriors.
Alas, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, implosion of the Soviet Union, and disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, inveterate hawks were embarrassed. How to justify continuation of the vast war machine created at such enormous cost? NATO officials even suggested shifting the alliance’s focus to fighting the drug war and promoting student exchanges, a dramatic example of public choice economics in action. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed tartly: “I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains. I’m down to [Fidel] Castro and Kim Il‐sung.”
For a time Moscow seemed off America’s enemies list. The Russian remains of Ronald Reagan’s infamous Evil Empire, which had stretched from Europe to the Pacific, were a national wreck, economically ravaged and politically destabilized. However, geopolitical collapse and humiliation, ostentatious and rampant corruption, and political incompetence and failure planted the seeds of antagonism and revanchism.
Worse, Western arrogance was at flood tide. U.S. and European leaders unashamedly broke their assurances that NATO would not expand, moving the alliance’s borders to within a hundred miles of St. Petersburg. The Clinton administration led the transatlantic alliance into an aggressive war that dismantled Serbia, a traditional Russian friend—on whose behalf Imperial Russia entered World War I—and sought to exclude Moscow from the post‐conflict settlement. Wesley Clark’s courageous British deputy had to disobey orders to stop the reckless NATO commander from risking war to prevent Russian troops from forcing their way into Kosovo.
Western governments talked democracy and backed “color” revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, countries that had been part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. In 2008 the George W. Bush administration won NATO’s assent to eventual NATO membership for the two states. Claims that this promise was self‐evidently unserious are belied by the alliance’s steady creep eastward, incorporating even such security nonentities as Montenegro and North Macedonia. In 2014 Brussels and Washington campaigned to reorient Ukraine by shifting economic ties westward, encouraging a street putsch against the elected though corrupt president, and openly backing creation of a new pro‐Western government.
All of these actions can be defended, but their negative collective impact on opinions in Moscow is unsurprising. Indeed, their backdrop was America’s pretension to be the unipower, the hyperpower, the essential nation, the superpower which applied the Monroe Doctrine worldwide. That is, Washington treated planet earth as America’s sphere of interest, insisting that the U.S., and the U.S. alone, was entitled to intervene anywhere at any time, against anyone for any reason.
Such hubris would have tested even a convinced democrat in the Kremlin. Imagine how the U.S. would have responded to similar circumstances. The Soviet Union expanding the Warsaw Pact to Cuba and inviting Canada and Mexico to join. Aiding the overthrow of an elected pro-U.S. president of Mexico. Anointing new officials as acceptable to the Kremlin. Renewing proposals for the country’s inclusion in the Warsaw Pact. Providing military assistance in Mexico’s ensuing border conflict with America.
Washington, D.C.—including the Atlantic Council’s Russia as Enemy caucus—would erupt. There would be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Pro‐war flash mobs. Fevered rants from members of the bipartisan war party. Congressional hearings, think tank webinars, embassy consultations, Pentagon briefings, and television specials. Newspaper editorials, opinion pieces, internet commentary, and policy studies. The Monroe Doctrine would be much‐cited, along with talk of red lines, references to “vital interests,” and demands for action. It would be the Cuban Missile Crisis in the digital age.
Adding to hostility toward Moscow has been an almost touching—if unashamedly hypocritical, even sanctimonious—concern for human rights in Russia. No doubt, Vladimir Putin is a bad guy and has dismantled democratic freedom and civil liberties. Western governments are aflame because one Russian opposition leader has been wrongly imprisoned. This is a nationalist who declared “the reality is that Crimea is now part of Russia” and might be an even more dangerous geopolitical adversary than Putin.
Yet compare this to treatment of the PRC, a contender for the greatest offender against human rights on earth. Xi Jinping does not hold elections. Rather, he has recreated a personal dictatorship and personality cult rivaling that of Mao Zedong. Xi violates human rights wholesale: a million Uyghurs in reeducation camps, rampant persecution against every religious faith, destruction of political liberties in Hong Kong, demolition of Beijing’s human rights legal bar, ever tighter online and media censorship, and much more. Yet the U.S. made a trade deal with China before the Trump administration decided that political expediency warranted treating Beijing as an enemy. The Europeans inked an investment pact with Xi only a couple months ago and won’t join Washington’s anti‐China crusade.
Similarly, until recently most Western powers, with the U.S. in the lead, ostentatiously embraced the odious Saudi monarchy, which has created a far more complete and brutal dictatorship than in Moscow. There are no elections, no opposition activists, no independent journalists, no internet freedom, and no churches or synagogues. Critics are sliced and diced. Even today the Biden administration refuses to sanction anyone who matters in Riyadh, let alone make the regime a “pariah,” as promised. The West continues to provide arms and munitions used by the Saudi royals to slaughter civilians in neighboring Yemen.
Pragmatism evidently reigns regarding policy toward China and the Kingdom. But suggest weighing similar considerations with Moscow? You must be a Putin shill.