The current White House and U.S. media narrative on the conflict in Ukraine differ significantly from what one hears in Moscow, as one might expect. President Obama and others in the United States point to Moscow as the sole culprit and it goes something like this: Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimea, invadedUkraine and is now threatening the Baltics, Poland and perhaps other countries "in pursuit of a wrongheaded desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”
If this were the whole story, Mr. Obama’s belief that Russia’s aggression must be stopped by providing Ukraine with nonlethal weapons and training Ukraine’s military would make sense, as might some of the other measures proposed, such as imposing harsher economic sanctions, deploying tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons. Others, convinced of Russia’s aggressive intent, would go even further by deploying up to 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and East European countries, boosting Western informational warfare, and perhaps mounting other covert and overt operations.
A majority in Congress, like Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain, are insisting on even more robust action and supporting one resolution after another demanding that Mr. Obama starts sending lethal weapons to Ukraine as well. They picture Mr. Putin as Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi and Osama bin Laden all rolled into one.
So far, Mr. Obama has resisted such pressure, but the president keeps calling Russia the America’s Enemy No. 1, worse than the Islamic State, China and the Ebola virus, hardly the sort of rhetoric that might help defuse a situation that threatens to escalate in ways both Moscow and Washington should be working to avoid.
There are, however, some influential Americans who disagree with this bleak assessment and hope that reasonable heads will prevail. Among them are several members of Ronald Reagan’s team — speechwriter and current Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Ambassadors Jack Matlock and Chas Freeman, Assistant Secretary of Treasury Paul Craig Roberts, Communications Director Patrick Buchanan, Budget Director David Stockman, senior CIA analyst Raymond McGovern, who prepared the president’s daily brief, Special Adviser to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Anthony Salvia and others.
Some, like David Stockman, do not mince words. He lays much of the blame on Kiev, claiming, "The Kiev government is a dysfunctional, bankrupt usurper that is deploying Western taxpayer money to wage a vicious war on several million Russian-speaking citizens in the Donbas.”
Paul Craig Roberts is goes even further, spreading the blame from Russia and Ukraine to the United States itself. He says "The Obama regime aided a coup in Ukraine, long a province of Russia, and the establishment of a U.S. vassal government that threatens Russian security.” Others may not be as blunt, but share a narrative close to the one expressed in Foreign Affairs by University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, who argues that the West fired the first shot by instigating and supporting a military coup in Ukraine, which led to the current bloody chaos.
At the very least, these assessments should be enough to convince one that the simple explanations for the current crisis offered by the president and Mr. McCain may less than complete. These Reagan team members are on the same wavelength as Henry Kissinger, former Sen. Bill Bradley, political scientist Stephen F. Cohen, former chairman and CEO of Proctor & Gamble John Pepper, and many others who also use milder language but reach similar conclusions. Several of these men are a part of the American Committee for East-West Accord — the second coming of an organization founded in 1974 by then-Pepsico Chairman Donald Kendall and legendary diplomat George F. Kennan.
The revived committee encouraged a vigorous debate about U.S.-Russia relations and suggested specific steps to defuse growing tension between Washington and Moscow, including reactivating the NATO-Russian Council and the provisions of the 1991 Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, adherence to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and more educational exchange programs.
Another group, the American — Russian Dialogue, calls for joint Washington-Moscow enforcement of the Minsk II agreement and favors the resumption of the work of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, frozen by Mr. Obama.
Mr. Rohrabacher sums up the current situation as well as anybody and argues that both sides have to step back and appreciate the consequences of traveling the road on which we find ourselves. "The trend line of our relations is working against the benefit of the United States and Russia and we’ve got to turn this around.”
By Edward Lozansky
Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of Moscow Sate and National Research Nuclear Universities.