How to Counter the Putin Playbook | The New York Times

Michael A. McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford, served as United States ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2012 to 2014:

…We will not find security in isolationism. No missile defense shield, cybersecurity program, tariff or border wall can protect us if we disengage. Menacing autocracies, illiberal ideas, and antidemocratic and terrorist movements will not just leave us alone or wither away. The threats will grow and eventually endanger our peace, as we saw in Europe and Japan in the 1930s, and Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Conversely, the growth of democracy around the world serves American interests. Democracies do not threaten us; autocracies do. Democratic allies also vote with us at the United Nations, go to war with us, support international treaties and norms, and stand with us against tyranny.

So we must push back, in new ways. Just as the Kremlin has become more sophisticated at exporting its ideas and supporting its friends, so must we.

We should think of advancing democratic ideas abroad primarily as an educational project, almost never as a military campaign. Universities, books and websites are the best tools, not the 82nd Airborne. The United States can expand resources for learning about democracy……

I agree with the sentiment but not the execution. Win friends by promoting education and building infrastructure abroad. These have practical, tangible benefits to citizens of developing nations. Democracy can come later. In many parts of the world it is as foreign a concept as gay marriage.

Source: How to Counter the Putin Playbook – The New York Times

11 Replies to “How to Counter the Putin Playbook | The New York Times”

  1. Interesting that the author says ‘democracies do not threaten us, autocracies do’ and yet he fails to recognize that the biggest democracy in the world, the US itself has been the greatest instigator of war, insurrection,destruction and threat to peace and security since the WW2. Actions speak louder than words. “Democracies go to war with us” sends the message that democracies such as Australia and Britain are lapdogs of the US who must do what it says or suffer the consequences. It is all very well to claim universities, books and websites are the best tools and not the 82nd airborne, but where do you draw the line between genuine informed knowledge and unbiased argument and the propaganda and censorship by omission the US mainstream press chooses to present? Until countries such as the US can be seen to be genuinely altruistically helping countries in need rather than exploiting them, democracy will be seen as a threat to ‘non-democratic’ countries. Not to mention that when the supposed bastion of democracy presents its people with the option of Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, why would a country believe democracy is any better than a well functioning autocracy they already have.

    1. “….fails to recognize that the biggest democracy in the world, the US itself has been the greatest instigator of war, insurrection,destruction and threat to peace and security since the WW2.”

      No one’s perfect but imagine where we would be if the US had continued its isolationist stance after WWII.

  2. Maybe in a much better position. Especially when you consider the thousands/millions killed as a result of the US trying to impose its will on other countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, Central America, Indonesia, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya to name but a few…

    1. …Opposing Stalin at the end of WWII saved the Western world from disaster. SE Asia was a strategic disaster — both for US and Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos — but where would Maoist expansion have ended if they failed to oppose? What of Chinese invasion of Northern India? Look what happened when Obama withdrew from Iraq and failed to enforce red line in Syria: opposing forces move into the vacuum. And some nasty people.

      It is easy to be an armchair critic but I would argue that most of these disasters occurred because the response was tentative. Talk softly but carry a big stick. I am sure you won’t agree.

      1. I have to strongly disagree with you that Vietnam was a case of Maoist expansion. It was a civil war. Once the US withdrew there was no further expansion as was originally feared with the ‘domino theory’, apart from Vietnam moving in to Cambodia to remove the Pol Pot regime, after which time it moved out. Similarly the Korean War came about after the US and USSR occupied Korea after expelling the Japanese at the end of WW2 and established the 38th parallel. It was never intended as permanent division of 2 countries. Unification was the desired goal by both sides in the conflict, similar to Vietnam. It was much more a civil war than a case of Maoist expansion. The Chinese ‘invasion’ of Northern India was to do a border dispute and Chinese historical claims regarding the sovereignty of Tibet which the Chinese have always regarded as part of China.
        “Opposing Stalin at the end of WW2 saved the western world from disaster”…is a very interesting statement and may have some merit although it is debatable. Hitler was essentially defeated by the Red Army. The allied invasion was secondary and was largely driven in the race to Berlin to ensure Stalin did not take over the rest of occupied Europe. The monstrous tyrant he was though, Stalin was not an advocate of world wide revolution. That was more Trotsky’s mantle. An argument can be made that Stalin’s motive in establishing the USSR was essentially defensive in nature to ensure he had a force strong enough to stand up against future aggression and invasion.
        I don’t disagree with you about “talk softly but carry a big stick”. My argument is don’t become a bully in the first place and try to impose your will on the rest of the world for your own benefit under the guise that you are doing it for their benefit. Maybe then you will command respect without having to impose it with a big stick.

      2. Seems we are not that far apart.

        Though I don’t agree that Korea and Vietnam were civil wars. Korea was the first proxy war, fought (and still being fought) to further the geopolitical aims of super-powers on another country’s soil, at massive cost to the local population.

    1. Yes. And as my grandfather was fond of saying: “If you buy cheap, you pay dear”.
      Trying to minimize the cost, as Chamberlain and Obama attempted, means you end up paying a huge price.

  3. I don’t disagree that there was super power involvement. My argument is that in Vietnam for example, that Ho Chi Minh and the communists were not about the expansion of Vietnam beyond its borders, as we were led to believe with the supposed the domino theory. It was initially a civil war in between the communists in the north and the government set up in in the south led by Diem, when it was believed proposed elections would result in a victory for Ho Chi Minh. It was a struggle by opposition groups in Vietnam over who should rule the country following the defeat of the French, the former colonial masters. It is my belief that had the US not intervened in propping up the Diem regime the conflict would have been confined to the two opposing sides. I certainly don’t believe the Vietnamese communists were fighting a proxy war with the aim of extending Chinese influence throughout South-East Asia. During the Vietnam war there was tension between China and the Soviet Union, but Ho Chi Minh’s tried to remain neutral. He was a staunch Vietnamese nationalist first whose goal was the unification of Vietnam.

    I cannot dispute that the the Korean war turned into a proxy war. But is initially started out a civil war, over who should rule a unified Korea, that the big powers got involved in. Which gets back to my original reason for joining this thread. US involvement in the affairs of other countries, often using diabolical means to impose its will, has in my opinion been the biggest destabilizer and threat to world peace since the second world war. While other super power Russia and China are perceived by the mainstream US press as great dangers, I would argue they are more concerned with the defense of the their own backyards rather than with foreign intervention and militarist expansion that has seen the US establish over 600 military bases world wide. As a message to the autocracies of the world that democracy might be the best form of government for them, they would have to question it in light of the US example.

    1. Interesting perspective on North Korea from Andrei Lankov:

      ” In August 1945, when the decision to divide Korea – initially for purposes of military control alone – was made in great haste and with little deliberation, neither the U.S. nor Soviet Union had any far-reaching plans for the peninsula’s future. However, Cold War logic soon made division almost inevitable.

      When Soviet troops arrived in northern Korea, they had little knowledge of the country they were to govern; documents confirm that the 25th Army was preparing to fight the Japanese, not to govern Koreans. Nearly everywhere Soviet troops occupied in 1944–45, the Soviet Union attempted to encourage the creation of pro-Soviet, left-wing governments. However, they quickly discovered that northern Korea had rather prominent right-leaning leaders, but was almost devoid of any significant leftists.

      The Soviet government understood that Cho Mansik, the venerable leader of the Nationalist Right, was a likely candidate to lead the emergent government in northern Korea (at least as a figurehead). Cho was allowed to establish his own ‘Democratic Party’, but the Soviet occupiers also insisted that communists be given some key positions in the nascent provisional local governing organs that emerged – sometimes spontaneously, and sometimes under the Soviet tutelage.

      From September 1945, the USSR began to encourage Korean communists from overseas to come home. One such exile was a former guerrilla field commander from Manchuria, whose bold military exploits in the 1930s attracted some attention before he escaped to the USSR and spent 1942–45 as a captain in the Soviet army. The young officer was known by his nom de guerre, Kim Il-sung….”


Comments are closed.