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Fundamental Misunderstandings Between Russia and the United States

2018-03-01

“Americans’ apparent need to imagine a Russian adversary as cunning, masterly, and strategic is matched only by the Russians’ own belief in a solid, stable, unshakable American society. ”  So says Masha Gessen in a February 20, 2018 piece in the New Yorker.

The problem is that American society is not solid, stable, or unshakable.  Russian meddling in our elections has made matters worse, but even aside from that interference, our society is more unstable, more fractious, and more riven by partisan, economic, and racial divisions than even we are willing to admit.  Prior to January 20, 2017, our government had a fairly competent, professional bureaucracy, but that has been steadily eaten away by Mr. Trump’s appointment of millionaire friends and sycophants to positions of control combined with the dismissals and resignations of committed nonpartisan officials.  Even before the presidential election, our society was cut up into mutually hostile cliques that differentiated themselves by race, social position, and wealth– relatively stable divisions that flared into open partisan warfare during and after the election.

Again, the problem is that Russia is not cunning, masterly, and strategic to a first approximation.  The Russian government is full of patronage, embezzlement, incompetence, and ordinary corruption.  They are not masters of global strategy or even of internal economic planning.  The government that Vlad “the Impaler” Putin has cobbled together is set up so that he can exercise control through a network of informal friends and business associates who are not selected for their competence but for their loyalty to him personally.  What was left of professional administration after the end of the Cold War was broken up and destroyed, associated with the fire sale of state assets to friends of government officials.  Mr. Putin rebuilt the state along personal lines after the collapse of government control by the turn of the century.

Serious, worldwide problems have not been addressed by coalitions of willing stakeholders.  Instead, the powerful with vested interests in business as usual have taken the lead in fashioning their own versions of “the facts” and oppressing less powerful groups affected by the destructive results of their profit-taking from the common treasury.  As a result of increased pressure on the environment, migration has increased, bringing with it more human misery.

The fundamental misunderstanding between the US and Russia is taking place from a nationalist point of view, even though nationalist thinking is already becoming obsolete.  The rise of giant multinational or transnational companies has rendered the concept of nation-states weaker and may someday soon completely transcend nationalism, with fatal results for national governments.

(photo of actors in Bangkok courtesy of pixabay.com and sasint)

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