Proof Positive

If any proof were actually necessary that Barack Obama is in fact an American you need look no farther than his ignorance of and casual disregard for history. Today’s speech at Moscow’s New Economic School was a case in point:

MOSCOW, July 7 — President Obama called for a new relationship between the United States and Russia on Tuesday, saying that the frequent rivals could both prosper by joining forces to combat common threats and pursue mutual interests.

The modern scourges of stateless terrorism and nuclear proliferation threaten both the United States and Russia, Obama said, demanding that the two nations shed past suspicions and confront those problems as partners.

“There is the 20th-century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another,” Obama said. “And there is a 19th-century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another. These assumptions are wrong.”

This is either a misstatement or a misunderstanding. As early as 1840 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and while the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly placed them- selves in the front rank among the nations, and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.

All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but these are still in the act of growth.101 All the others have stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these alone are proceeding with ease and celerity along a path to which no limit can be perceived. The American struggles against the obstacles that nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained by the plowshare; those of the Russian by the sword. The Anglo-Americans relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centers all the authority of society in a single arm. The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their starting-point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.

I would not construe this as asserting that the United States and Russia will inevitably have different spheres of influence so much as that the two countries have contrasting views of society and the relations between people and nations. Certainly a more sophisticated view of the historical view of the contrasts between Russia and the United States than that which the President has portrayed.

I believe the contrast is a real one but I don’t believe that it means that Russia and the United States will inevitably be at daggers drawn. I do believe that Russian authoritarianism will necessarily oppose liberal democracy and to the extent that we associate ourselves with liberal democracy and its spread the two countries will contest for influence.

4 comments… add one
  • Sadly for us, it appears that Obama’s poker skills are in the same league with his bowling and girly-style baseball throw.

    Russia recieved much of what it wants before Obama even landed, i.e. council with NATO, so how would anybody expect Barack to gain advantage? Meanwhile, the Kremlin has failed even to comply with the terms of the truce signed with Georgia last year- continuing to do pretty much as it pleases.

    I don’t see any reason to be doing deals with the Russians- they have nothing to offer the United States, IMO.

  • One of de Tocqueville’s aristocratic contemporaries was the Marquis de Custine, who wrote The Empire of the Czar, a work that was analogous to Democracy in America. De Custine did not think the Russians were Europeans or even well suited to become like Europeans but that they had it in them to become a great world power.

    So far, his judgment is holding up and it will continue to do so as long as the Russians see the state as being above the rule of law as a normal political condition. In turn, their leaders will continue to behave abrasively, bullying and cajoling their neighbors with threats because that is how they treat their population at home.

  • Okay, I’ve read Obama’s remarks three times now, and I still read ““And there is a 19th-century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another. These assumptions are wrong.” as not necessarily meaning that ONLY Russia and America were among those “great powers” mentioned… Can you clarify?

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