Washington hawks want regime change in Russia, no more and no less. Their hatred of Putin, who has the guts to have his own opinion of world affairs, and who stands firm for his country’s right to look after its security interests, makes him the ultimate evil.
For the past few weeks we have heard plenty of statements from Washington about the huge threat to U.S. National Security coming from Russia. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and top Pentagon brass are convinced — or say they are — that the Russian threat is an absolute reality. The latest in this row is the statement by the Head of the US Special Operations Command General Joseph Votel, who also views Russia as an "existential threat" to the United States, repeating accusations against Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis.
In Congress, the party of war keeps pushing the same line but If this were only related to the upcoming budget sequestration discussion — which, among other things, can affect the Pentagon — one could dismiss this incessant talk of an imminent Russian threat as a simple money extortion exercise. However, I am afraid it is not just about money.
Washington hawks want regime change in Russia, no more and no less. Their hatred of Putin, who has the guts to have his own opinion of world affairs, and who stands firm for his country's right to look after its security interests, makes him the ultimate evil — someone who has to go and be replaced by a more malleable character. A person like Boris Yeltsin, who knew who is running the show on the world stage and humbly accepted this sober fact.
It's a different question how to achieve Putin's overthrow without a major military confrontation with Russia, a conflict that can well end in a conflagration engulfing the whole planet. It is one thing to perform regime change in Iraq, Libya or Ukraine but dealing with nuclear-armed Russia is quite a different matter.
Presently the hawks' thinking is still at the stage where they believe they can get rid of Putin through economic sanctions and by using the conflict in Ukraine to exhaust Russia's strength, ruin its economy and undermine its stability. There is no question that substantial damage to Russian economy has been done. It is not "in tatters," as Mr. Obama recently gloated, but is definitely shrinking and the number of people living below the poverty line has indeed increased. However, Putin's popularity is not heading south; on the contrary, his ratings jump a point or two every time another angry anti-Putin rebuke from Washington hits the airwaves.
Instead of accepting the failure of the current policy of sanctions and start searching for some kind of reasonable compromise, the party of war is pushing for escalation in tensions which can end up really badly for everyone. Any incident, however unintentional and insignificant in itself, can grow into something that we all — or rather those who will have survived — will remember with a sense of everlasting wonder at human stupidity.
What we see now resembles the hysteria in 2003 prior to and during the Iraq invasion. The party of war is so hell-bent on its perilous course that it can hardly be swayed by any reasonable arguments of those against warmongering. Nowadays even the most ardent supporters of the Iraq and Libya wars admit that they were huge mistakes which resulted in hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, millions of refugees, trillions of dollars wasted and the rise of ISIS on top of that.
Besides, there is another question that needs to be considered coolly and factually. Does Russia really represent the great or even greatest threat to America or for that matter to any NATO country?
Many Russians believe that actually it is America that represents the greatest threat to their country. Was it Russia that instigated a military coup in Mexico and installed an anti-American corrupted oligarch as its president? Was it Russia that imposed devastating economic sanctions on America — or is it the other way round? Is it Russia that supplies weapons and trains Mexican nationalists who are thinking of getting back territories lost during an armed conflict between the United States and the Centralist Republic of Mexico in the wake of the 1845 US annexation of Texas, which Mexico regarded as its inalienable part. Is it Russia that funds and supports American protest groups, something that we do around the world through the democracy promotion crusade?
As for the military threat, Putin and his generals are well aware that NATO armed forces are ten to fifteen times stronger than Russia's. You can call Putin any names but he is definitely not insane or suicidal. However, if you try to back the bear into a corner, anything can happen.
At this point it looks like the only and lonely sane voice in Washington belongs to the Secretary of State John Kerry who recently stated that he "doesn't agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States…. Certainly we have disagreements with Russia…but we don't view it as an existential threat."
As for the huge crowd of presidential candidates, it looks like so far the only one who promises to fix the U.S. — Russia relations thus avoiding a looming disaster is Donald Trump. In his recent interview on CNN he said that he would be able to work well with the Russian president.
No matter how the media and Republican Party establishment are trying to humiliate Trump, I for one would give him a chance.
By Edward Lozansky
Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of Moscow Sate and National Research Nuclear Universities.