TWQ: A Less Ideological America - Fall 2008
October 1, 2009
As the United States gets closer to electing its 44th president, there is a keen sense of interest in Russia in the outcome of a most thrilling race for the White House, but also a palpable feeling of detachment about the possible implications for Russian-U.S. relations. There is a consensus that, after eight years of George W. Bush, America will enter a period of major foreign policy adjustment, but Russia will not be at the heart of it. No one seriously expects a magical transformation of U.S. foreign policy, but there is a hope that the state of world affairs will make the next U.S. administration less ideological and more pragmatic.
Ideally, from a Russian perspective, the next administration will act on the basis of U.S. interests, avoiding slipping into the fundamentalism of democratic ayatollahs or the antiauthoritarian crusades of the new cold warriors. Having rejected any kind of ideology as an impediment and having embraced pragmatism themselves, Moscow sees Washington's talk of values as essentially disingenuous, thoroughly compromised by double standards, and serving the purpose of global expansionism. Thus, Russia's calls to the United States to restrain its ideological fervor are in fact calls to drop its pretense to hegemonic leadership.
This is not to say that Russia would welcome U.S. withdrawal into itself, which is unrealistic in any case. Moscow even accepts a degree of leadership coming from Washington, provided that it is enlightened. In this more ideal arrangement, the United States would be anything but hegemonic. It would no longer insist on its moral superiority and the universality of its values. It would make room for other major players and accept the plurality of values systems, abiding by the phrase "live and let live." Representing no rival ideology, Russia does not seek to supplant the U.S. system with a different one; it merely wants to make sure that the United States stays within its borders and respects the legitimacy of other regimes.
While acting on the basis of its own interests, the United States needs to recognize the interests of others. In an ideal world, the United States would become more globally democratic, practicing abroad what it practices at home, and Russia would practice at home the democracy that it preaches abroad. Whereas most Americans would probably wish Russia to change domestically and, as a consequence of that, its foreign policy, Russian concerns are almost exclusively with U.S. foreign and security policies, particularly where they touch on Russian interests.