America Remakes itself in Russia's Image

Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech in May of 1946 at Fulton, Missouri, is often seen as the unofficial beginning of the Cold War. The World War II alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies quickly deteriorated after the defeat of fascism, and by early 1946 that alliance had been replaced by open hostility and suspicion. The symbolic end of the Cold War would come 43 years later when the Berlin Wall became  nothing more than a porous anachronism, a broken symbol of a failed, oppressive system. The Soviets and their Eastern Bloc cronies were ousted, and good riddance.

The former states of the Warsaw Pact and the constituent republics of the former Soviet Union would find their own way out of the abusive relationship they'd endured for more than  four decades. And Russia would find itself increasingly irrelevant in the political and power landscape of the post Cold War era. That is until 2000, when Vladimir Putin became Russia's president. 

Seventeen years later It is clear that Russia has been actively working for years to undermine democratic institutions in those countries seen previously, and once again, as its international rivals. Furthermore, those efforts are ongoing and to date successful. How did a failing state with severely diminished political and economic influence manage such a turnaround?

One lesson the Russians learned from the Cold War is that it cannot outspend the West in either a conventional or nuclear arms race. Its economy, and previously the economy of the Soviet Union, is simply not large enough to support such an effort. It has therefore turned to other means to obtain a political and economic position its leadership believes is its natural due. In short, they learned the lesson of asymmetrical warfare, the sort of warfare waged against the Soviet Union by some of those it sought to dominate such as the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Russia, rather than engaging in another arms race or embarking on fruitless invasions as its predecessor did, has found a far more economically efficient means of achieving its global aims: Russia has successfully weaponized the internet.

The current Russian internal governing model is one characterized by autocratic power used to enrich a thin layer of oligarchs, to foment aggressive nationalism, and to suppress meaningful dissent. In other words, same old, same old. The Russian foreign policy model is one characterized by using the cost-effective tools of the internet to replicate its internal model abroad. Russia's broad international strategy is actually a remake of the aims of the former Soviet Union, i.e., to transform the world's political and economic institutions into ones reflecting  Russia's, or stated another way, to remake the world in its own image. Sound familiar? Yep . . . same old, same old.

We spent trillions of dollars and too many lives resisting the Soviet effort for more than four decades. However, remarkably, America's current political leadership in both the White House and Congress is all in with the Russians. The evidence is clear. The ongoing revelations about Russia's actions leading up to the 2016 election, and the deep ties current administration officials have to Russia and, more importantly, have been cultivating with Russia for years, are unmistakable signs of a fellow traveler finding common ground with a despot. Furthermore, statements and actions from the highest levels of the Trump administration give aid and comfort to white supremacists while increasing the danger to those who are different, those who dissent, and those who report. The analog to Russia's domestic politics is undeniable. As to Congress, the recent "tax reform" bills approved by the House and the Senate guarantee the further concentration of power and capital into the hands of a select few (read "oligarchs" here) to the further deprivation of the vast majority (read "masses" here). Further concentration and deprivation are unquestionably central aims of the men and women who are supposed to represent the interests of all Americans.

The only reasonable conclusion from the above is that Russia's efforts to manipulate American democratic institutions are bearing fruit as the United States remakes itself in Russia's image, a remarkable turn of events since the Cold War's dramatic end 30 years ago. If nothing else, perhaps the American experience can be a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.