To Russia with … It’s Complicated

Remember when President Obama poked gentle fun at Mitt Romney for citing Russia as a serious threat? Remember how we all laughed?

I didn’t. I winced. Nothing good ever came from poking a bear. But the moment passed, and I couldn’t help but be happy that Obama had gotten another one over on Romney.

I was also pleased (the rest of the country notwithstanding) when Russia erased our line in the sand in Syria with an offer to help Assad rid himself of those pesky chemical weapons. It seemed to me at the time to be a timely answer to a worrisome situation. I didn’t really get it when so many people seemed to think that, despite recent cautionary tales, a military answer was preferable to a diplomatic one. When someone steps over a line, the prevalent wisdom went, that someone must be punched.

I thought — I hoped — that it meant Russia was coming to the table as a team player. After all, Russia was the one who was on Assad’s side, and much more likely to get Assad’s cooperation than we were. The United States, and the Western Powers in general, had pretty much shot their wad with the Muslim world after the Iraq War debacle. And then, in the throes of Arab Spring Fever, Obama had suggested that it might be time for Assad to step down. Assad wasn’t really speaking to us anymore.

That was in 2013. A year later, Russia annexed the Crimea and supported an uprising in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is a little bit like the neighborhood gang that collects toys for the kiddies at Christmas but aims always to take over adjoining territories. Guns are involved.

These days, Russia is all about the cease-fires, getting Assad of Syria and Erdogan of Turkey to play nice and promising not to hurt the rebels anymore if they’ll just stop with this nonsense, already. The U.S., indeed the entire Western world, isn’t invited. I’m trying to feel goodish about this. After all, anything that stops the barrel bombs from falling can’t be all bad.

Actually, I’ve been uneasy about Russia ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union — uneasy about our gloating, uneasy about the influence that sudden freedom to capitalize would have and who would profit, uneasy about the assumptions we had made about what the Russian people wanted and what they would do with this brave new world. Uneasy about the fact that we just left them there to get with the program. That we even seemed oblivious to the fate of the elderly, especially those in the “stans”, who depended on their Soviet pensions which went out the door when independence came in.

Russia has kept all these things in its big, burly heart — the gloating, the assumptions, Obama’s dismissal. It must be really feeling its oats now, as it blithely neglects to send us an invitation to the parley table. I won’t bitch too much if Russia is able, somehow, to impose peace on Syria. I do worry that the peace will have been imposed with an iron fist. And that this will once again validate the iron fist theory of foreign relations.

Speaking of gloating, that is how I imagine Vlad the Internet Impaler as he watched the U.S. election returns. I hear today that Mitch McConnell has somehow gotten John McCain and Lindsey Graham to back down on their promise to investigate those unsettling hacking charges. I’d like to think it took a few hours in a locked cellar with a large masked man — at least a reminder that Mitch knows where they live — but likely all it took was a stern talking to. So disappointing. Remember that scene in The Return of the King? When Aragorn says that the day may come when the men of the West west will not stand together — but that is NOT THIS DAY? I’m thinking that a wide shot would likely show a couple of cravens silently turning their horses and riding away. One of them has a soft southern accent. The other we’ll just call Grumpy.

Which brings us, inevitably, to He Who Must Not Be Named. The Man in the High Tower. But here I must leave you. There is a certain dark magic in too much speculation, not to mention wildly mixed metaphors. Too much that should not be released into the world. Too much that has not yet come to pass. I wish all the best to the Russian people, who will have to find their own way through this uncertain future as the Age of Possibility gives way to the Age of the Big Man. As will we all. But it’s gonna be complicated.