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Is Russia Our Enemy?

In New York on Tuesday, Intelligence Squared, a British-based debate forum, sponsored a discussion on one of today’s critical issues: Is Russia becoming our enemy again?

The debaters who took the benign view—especially Robert Legvold of Columbia University and Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—argued that we should not call Russia an enemy because that might make it one. There is, of course, a dose of logic in this simple proposition. After all, we don’t need to create another antagonist at this moment, especially if it’s a large nation with a chip on its shoulder and a finger on the button.

Yet a mutually self-destructive spat of name-calling is not the problem we face at this time. “Just last week George W. Bush insisted in a speech that Russia is not an enemy of the United States,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, as he argued that Moscow is indeed becoming an adversary. “Now if that does not convince this audience that our side is right, I don’t know what will.”

In just a few words Stephens identified perhaps the most important shortcoming of American foreign policy of this era. We don’t have to worry about making Russia an enemy by calling it one. On the contrary, we have to be concerned that we will permit Russia to become an enemy by failing to speak plainly.

In recent months, Moscow has been supporting the atomic aspirations of the Iranians, bombing the Georgians, upgrading Syria’s air defenses, poisoning and shooting foreign nationals on foreign soil, seizing foreign-owned energy investments without justification, threatening to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, harassing the Estonian government, and resuming cold war patrols of heavy bombers far from its shores (and close to our shores and those of our allies). In short, the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin has tried to upend the international system by taking down the post-cold war architecture.

And what is America doing? We call the Russian autocrat a friend and trustworthy partner. Methinks we do not protest enough.


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