In terms of their views on U.S. policy vis-à-vis Russia, American political elites fall into three distinct categories.
The first one sees Russian president Vladimir Putin as the ultimate evil threatening America and entire mankind. Pat Buchanan very aptly dubbed these folks McCainiacs. Their position is that there can be no talks of any sort with Moscow until a regime change in Russia is achieved, and a more suitable leader is installed in the Kremlin. If it were not for Russia’s nuclear weapons, the McCainiacs would use the same regime change tactics that were employed in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and now Syria. One might say those tactics have produced shattering results, like total chaos and devastation on the ground plus the millions of refugees, including hundreds of thousands of them swamping Europe.
Because of the nuclear weapons factor, and to their infinite regret, the McCainiacs are forced to resort to what they see as "kindler” or "gentler” methods, like harsh economic sanctions, NATO expansion to the East, as well as some instruments suggested by the GOP presidential contender and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Florina, who aspires to become a new commander-in-chief.
"I wouldn’t talk to Putin at all. We’ve talked way too much to him,” says she. "What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet. I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland. I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States,” she continued. "I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”
Other GOP candidates followed almost the same line. They aspired to show their toughness by calling Putin every derogatory epithet they could think of. In all, Putin’s name came up 18 times during the recent CNN debate, a fact that must have given him considerable satisfaction as it made him almost as popular in these debates as Donald Trump, the current front runner in the campaign.
The second group, which I call the "ObamaKerrys,” undoubtedly shares the same feelings about Putin as the previous one but tries to be more pragmatic. Thus, these leaders talk to Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and are even prepared to talk to the devil himself when they feel it can serve U.S. interests, of course, the way they understand them which does not mean that their strategic vision is correct.
Both groups could care less about Russia’s legitimate security interests. It is the basic tenet of exceptionalism: only America is an indispensable nation, only America’s interests must be enforced. Meanwhile, Russia and other nations who do not follow the Washington party line have no right to question this state of affairs.
Finally, the third group, the "RohrarBradleys,” is composed of some obviously naïve folks who share the views of such weird politicos as the former Reagan speechwriter and current Republican congressman from California, Dana Rohrabacher, and the former US Democratic senator from New Jersey and basketball star Bill Bradley. The McCainiacs and ObamaKerrys believe that RohraBradleys really do not know what they are talking about. For instance, they have the temerity to insist that Russia does possess some legitimate security interests that Washington must take into account. Moreover, RohraBradleys believe that this is more than sticking to the old-fashioned principle of fair play: above all, it is in the best interests of the United States to deal with Russia as an equal partner, and have her on our side of the barricade in facing the world’s most enormous challenges.
In the current political climate in Washington, the overwhelming majority in Congress belongs to the bipartisan group of McCainiacs, while in the Obama administration there is approximately a 50–50 divide between McCainiacs and ObamaKerrys.
As for the American public, unfortunately, there is no serious opinion poll to check which of these three groups has the larger following. However, considering the overwhelming anti-Russia hysteria and demonization of Putin even in the liberal media bastions like The New York Times and the Washington Post, the RohraBradleys cannot hope to be in the majority. For the old-timers, when it comes to Russia the language of their editorials is uncannily like the Soviet phraseology: they are practically ready to qualify for such dubious titles as "Pravda on the Hudson” or "Pravda on the Potomac”.
Still, if one has the patience to read not only the editorials but also the comments, there is a clear impression that the numbers of RohraBradleys are pretty substantial, if not overwhelming.
Now, what does all this leave us with? Are we heading for a regime change in Russia as McCainiacs want and ObamaKerrys wouldn’t mind attempting - despite the high chances of a nuclear holocaust? Or should we listen to the RohraBradleys, try to moderate our appetites for running the planet, and choose a policy of reasonable compromise?
At this point in time the only candidate who talks about making a deal with Mr. Putin is Donald Trump. He is also the man who leads in the polls. Of course, this lead is largely related to domestic policies, but foreign policy is definitely a factor, too. Right now, all sober-minded people should see the current American split as weak hope for getting out of the current climate of brinkmanship with Russia, and higher than acceptable risk that nuclear conflagration could result from either mere accident or downright folly in high places.
Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of Moscow Sate and National Research Nuclear Universities.