Vol. 40, No. 3

A Note from the Chairman

From the moment the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, Americans have known that we were in a different kind of war. But in at least one respect, the war we are fighting today bears some resemblance to wars we have fought in the past.

Branding America

After nearly five years, we no longer remember all their names. But we remember their faces. And we will never forget their eyes. They are the eyes of killers. They are the eyes of the 19 hijackers who commandeered four planes on September 11, 2001, taking the lives of over 3,000 people and taking us […]

Karen Hughes’ Challenge

Since Sept. 11 , 2001, it has become commonplace to say that the United States is engaged in a war of ideas for the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims. Even Donald Rumsfeld has admitted that the metric for measuring success in a war against jihadist terrorism is whether the numbers we kill or deter […]

On the Frontlines of Freedom

Today on the world stage, particularly in Muslim nations, our military is too often viewed only as the enemy, a disturbing fact not lost on those who now wear the uniform. Make no mistake — death and violence are products of any war. But lost within today’s highly partisan environment are such deeply held goals […]

Madison Avenue’s Take on Brand America

If any country in the world can be viewed as a brand, it’s America. After all, we invented “branding.” So why, when we are the most powerful nation on earth and facing precarious times, can’t we leverage America’s brand assets? For inspiration and guidance, I returned to the basics of brand building that have worked […]

A View From Abroad

It is too late to walk or talk softly. The big stick—the enormous military might of the U.S.—bears its own ominous message, but the U.S. might try to promote its democratic ideals with more skill, conviction, and volume. Even the British, our most loyal consumers and faithful allies, are losing the faith, despite their relative […]

Q&A With Bill Thomas

Earlier this year, Congressman Bill Thomas announced his retirement after nearly 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. First elected in 1978, Thomas has served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee since 2001. He recently sat down with the Ripon Forum to discuss his experiences in politics and share his thoughts on […]

No More Mistakes

As the world becomes increasingly focused on Iran’s nuclear activities, we are once again looking to our intelligence to determine what those activities mean.

Russia Under Putin: Neither Friend Nor Foe

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters were “outraged.” A Kremlin spokesperson denounced the speech as “inconceivable” and “subjective” in its interpretations of Russian internal affairs. Others in Moscow, as well as some in the West, called the speech a return to the Cold War. One Moscow headline suggested that U.S.-Russian relations were at their […]

How the Millennials Get Their News

Last year’s media coverage of the Gulf Coast hurricanes helped re-define the domestic political agenda leading into this year’s mid-term elections. But it wasn’t just storm coverage. Political damage control was in full effect, with elected officials from all sides of the political spectrum flocking to cable news channels to assuage public fears, tamp down […]

Immigration Reform: The Challenges Ahead

The immigration debate is at a fever pitch as the Ripon Forum goes to press. Only a fool would try to predict what will happen next, either in the Senate, which will probably vote this week, or in the skirmishing that could follow if lawmakers then move ahead to try to reconcile the Senate package […]

Back to the Moon… and Beyond!

A robust space exploration program is crucial to maintaining America’s scientific and technological preeminence in the twenty-first century. No other endeavor challenges us to develop innovative new technologies which often improve our quality of life, while simultaneously fulfilling the basic human need to explore new horizons.

Back to the Moon… But Let’s Fix NASA First

I believe that America – this time with her international partners – should go back to the moon.

The Back Page: Can you be a Republican and Still Like The Boss?

I got turned onto Bruce Springsteen the summer before my junior year in college. It was 1984. Born in the USA had come out on June 4th. And my friends and I were on a 10-day road trip to Florida before school started back up in the fall.

Ripon Profile of Susan Collins

I am a Republican because I believe in the core party principles of individual responsibility, personal liberty, federalism, and a strong national defense.

Russia Under Putin: Neither Friend Nor Foe

Vice President Richard Cheney caused a real stir in Vilnius in May when he delivered a major speech on the former communist world. 

putin and bush

In blunt language typical for the Vice President, he stated, “in Russia today, opponents of reform are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade. In many areas of civil society – from religion and the news media, to advocacy groups and political parties – the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of the people.  Other actions by the Russian government have been counterproductive, and could begin to  affect relations with other countries. No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation. And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters were “outraged.” A Kremlin spokesperson denounced the speech as “inconceivable” and “subjective” in its  interpretations of Russian internal affairs. Others in Moscow, as well as some in the West, called the speech a return to the Cold War.  One Moscow headline suggested that U.S.-Russian relations were at their lowest level in the last 20 years. 

Cheney’s speech and the reaction to it in Moscow do not mark a restart of the Cold War, but U.S.-Russia relations are changing from the dynamics that shaped them for the past two decades. Understanding the difference between the two – that is, between a return to the Cold War and a recognition that the bilateral relationship has changed fundamentally since the more optimistic period of the 1990s – will be crucial to  developing a realistic relationship between Russia and the United States in the coming years. 

First, let’s be clear: the current interaction between the United States and Russia looks nothing like the Cold War. The Cold War, after all, was a battle between two global superpowers espousing two antithetical ideologies. Millions of people — Russians, Americans, Ukrainians, Koreans, Hungarians, Vietnamese, Czechoslovaks, Angolans, Afghans, and many others – lost their lives in this so-called “cold” war, while the Soviet Union and the United States threatened each other with nuclear annihilation as a strategy to keep the peace.  This situation is not returning.  Those who invoke the Cold War as a historical analogy for today’s tensions either are ignorant of what really happened during the Cold War or are nostalgic for an era when Russia was considered a superpower. 

Russia today does not posses the military or economic capacity to be a second superpower again (and the idea of an “energy superpower” is a bizarre one, since every other major exporter of raw materials in history was on the periphery of the world economy, not in its core). Nor, despite all the recent worry about Russia’s efforts to stop “colored” revolutions, does the Kremlin have a model of governance or ideology that is in demand abroad.  For American strategic thinkers, therefore, other rising powers such as China, other ideologies such as Osama bin Ladenism, and other foreign policy concerns such as Iraq, occupy their attention, leaving little time to think about rekindling an antagonistic relationship with Russia. Those who worry about a return to the Cold War have an inflated sense of Russia’s importance to American foreign policy.  What Cheney’s speech does signal is that the Bush administration is scaling back its expectations about Russia as a strategic partner for the simple fact that the United States traditionally has more strained and limited relationships with autocracies than it does with democracies. It is this relationship between Russian internal developments and  American foreign policy that must be understood.

Since the latter part of the 1980s, Western leaders, including presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, believed that first the Soviet Union and then Russia was “in transit” from communism to democracy. To help this process of democratization move forward, Western leaders believed that Russia should be integrated into Western institutions.  Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian president Boris Yeltsin believed that they were pushing their countries towards democracy internally and towards integration with the West externally. Putin, however, has reversed these trends.

He obviously is not seeking to deepen democracy. Nor, however, is Putin pushing for integration in the West, in part because of frustration with the limited results of this foreign policy and in part because Putin now believes that a revived, more powerful Russia today does not need membership into Western clubs to be a great and “sovereign” international player. It took Washington some time to recognize Putin’s agenda at home and the end of the integration project in foreign relations. Now understood, it is only natural that relations should be based on a different set of expectations. 

The United States can do business with autocratic regimes.  Since the creation of the United States, American leaders have cooperated with autocracies, such as the French monarchy during the American War of Independence, when it was considered to be in the national interest. But this cooperation always comes with some unease. Relations with democracies are always deeper and more enduring. As Russia has become more autocratic, the strains in bilateral relations were therefore predictable if not inevitable. These strains do not represent a return to the Cold War. Rather, they represent a return to how the United States has traditionally, awkwardly, and often hypocritically dealt with autocracies of strategic importance throughout American history – from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Pakistan today.

Without question, Bush and his successor should continue to work with their Russian counterparts on issues of nation and mutual interest… But as long as Russia remains an autocracy, there will be limits to cooperation just as there always has been in American foreign policy, well before and after the Cold War.

American hopes about warmer relations in the 1990s were either a consequence of  a more democratic regime inside Russia or a misunderstanding of that regime’s autocratic nature. But whether it is perception or reality that has changed, the result is the same—more friction.  

Without question, Bush and his successor should continue to work with their Russian counterparts on issues of national and mutual interest, be it nonproliferation, the expansion of energy supplies, or the fight against terrorism. No one sensible in Washington either inside or outside of the government is calling for a return to containment.  But as long as Russia remains an autocracy, there will be limits to cooperation just as there always has been in American foreign policy, well before and after the Cold War. 

If the trajectory inside Russia does change in the future, then Washington and the rest of the West must be ready to reengage more robustly in a strategy for integrating Russia into the Western world, including seemingly radical ideas such as Russian membership in NATO and the European Union. Such ideas can only be entertained after Russia recommits to building a liberal democracy and a genuine market economy. When change does occur, these ideas must be considered seriously, with real interim benchmarks for maintaining the integration trajectory and realistic timetables that will have to stretch decades long.  

The first attempt to reintegrate Russia after communism failed. The second chance, whenever it comes, cannot result in failure again.

Michael McFaul is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, an associate professor of political science at Stanford University and a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.