The New Russian Threat: May be Good News for some | Charles Duelfer

The New Russian Threat: May be Good News for some

Putin may discover to his surprise that it is in many American parties interests to have Russia as an enemy.  It is not overly cynical to point out that, for many interests in Washington, there is a great need to have a clear enemy.  Of course there are real threats to the United States.  However, the kinetic conflicts of the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan have all but ended.  And the war on terror is being dialed back.  Into this environment (call it a partial vacuum) steps Vladimir Putin.  He might ask the question whether more parties have a stake in his being treated as an enemy or as a competitor, or some other categorization. And what does that mean for him or Russia.

Compared with China, the US economy is not very dependent upon Russia.  Sure many companies have linked interests with Russian companies. Exxon has extensive arrangements with Roseneft for example.  But I don’t Exxon is going to be going public in defense of Putin.

Moreover, Russia as an enemy could satisfy a lot of needs for the defense budget, political debates, etc.  Who is going to say a good word about Russia during the next election cycle?  On the contrary, there is likely to be a competition to be tougher on Russia.  There is even a nostalgia for the US-Soviet days among defense analysts.  A unitary enemy was easier to analyze and construct a defense posture and strategy.  The past decade has only offered a very messy and difficult to quantify terrorist threat.

Putin may be calculating that the US will behave as a unitary actor that will maximize its interests.  But that analysis could crumble on two fronts.  One, politics causes the US to not act as a unitary actor.  And, it may cause the US to act in ways that are not in its self-interests (assuming you know what metric to measure self-interest–economics may be only one element).

Putin may have walked into a position where he satisfies a broad need for an enemy and that will make it very hard to reverse a trend of animosity from the US.  Watch in next few months how rationales for all sorts of things will be linked to new Russian threat.  Aircraft carrier and F-35 procurement, oil and gas development, space launch capacity, mid-term election speeches, arctic issues, the list could go on.

Of course, maybe this trend would work well for Putin domestically.  We’ll see, but I suspect we may be witnessing the beginning of a negative feedback loop that will be very expensive.

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