Listening to Ariel Cohen
The Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen is surely one of the most insightful and courageous Russia watchers in the world today, and his recent white paper on HF’s website laying out America’s foreign policy objectives for Russia should be required reading for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, as well as all Russia watchers everywhere.
After laying out the facts establishing the threat posed by Russia to American national security in an irrefutable scholarly manner replete with footnotes, Cohen proceeds to set forth the specific policy steps that the Obama administration must take in order to meet those threats. No thinking person can argue with his formulation, and if Obama does not implement it history will surely condemn his fatal error.
Here is Cohen’s five-point proposal:
- Bolster NATO, focusing on Russia’s weaponization of energy and its attacks on Ukraine and Georgia
- Refuse nuclear arms reduction negotation until a review of U.S. strategic interests is complete and until Russia cooperates in neutralizing Iran and gives strict guarantees on U.S. business interests being protected from nationalization
- Confront Russian aggression in Venezuela, Syria and the Arctic
- Develop a Marshall Plan for weening Europe off Russian gas & oil
- Press forward with missile defense in Eastern Europe
Despite the need to attract investment, the Kremlin is likely to pursue an anti-status quo foreign policy as long as it views the United States as weakened or distracted due to the combined effects of the economic crisis, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the presence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the need to deal with the fast-developing prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and preoccupation with the Arab–Israeli conflict.
In other words, above all Russia must not be allowed to perceive the U.S. as being either indecisive or weak, much less both. Like a child or a animal, Russia will only seek to take advantage of such weakness. The Obama adminsitration must project resolute power if it hopes to prevent Russia from misbehaving.
We think there is only one fault in Cohen’s analysis, and that is his failure to mention the need to support human rights within Russia. Throughout the first Cold War, America’s resolute defense of Soviet dissidents gave hope to all those who struggled for change, and Barack Obama is uniquely well positioned to renew America’s committment to civil rights and liberties within Russia. Here more than anywhere else, a perception of weakness on his part will be life-threatening to the few who remain willing to risk all for democracy in Russia. Obama must now allow Putin to believe he can go on liquidating Russia’s candles of freedom such as Anna Politikovskaya and Stanislav Markelov.
The economic crisis Russia has brought upon itself gives the U.S. an unprecedented window of opportunity to pressure the Putin regime into serious concessions. If this opportunity is squandered, the Obama presidency will be stained beyond redemption.
We urge the new president to pay attention to Mr. Cohen’s wisdom and act upon it immediately, before it is too late.