Today, the United States finds itself in a new Cold War. This is not so much an ideological conflict as the last one was. Instead, it is a conflict about the definition of the new world order.
Gone are the days following the end of the Cold War when the United States acted as the global hegemon seeking to institute its vision of a unipolar liberal world order. Now, the conflict rages between a nominally aligned axis of autocracies—loosely led by Moscow and Beijing—and the world’s democracies as represented by Washington, D.C.
Unlike the 20th century Cold War, which was fought between revolutionary Communism and idealistic capitalism, the autocrats today appear to want only to create a multipolar world order where their regimes are not subject to wanton American military aggression. Theirs is less a campaign of aggressive revolution and more of a defensive policy meant to preserve their autocratic regimes. That may offend our sensibilities, but theirs is an entirely rational stance.
Transactional Foreign Policy Is Good
Moscow views its foreign policy today in mostly transactional terms. Given the chance, Russia will negotiate and seek amicable deals with the West over key areas of concern. For Moscow, though, Washington must be willing to treat it as an equal. That’s a small price for Washington to pay.
Think about it: unlike during the Cold War era, we have in Russia today a group of leaders who, while they may dislike us, still recognize that they must deal with America in order to achieve their aims. This means they will have to compromise. So will we.
That’s politics, though.
The alternative is that we keep fighting this pointless Cold War 2.0, diverting necessary resources and attention away from more pressing problems and into fighting a conflict we already won 30 years ago!
Unable to accept that unipolarity is over (for now, at least), Washington’s permanent bipartisan fusion party refuses to deal fairly with Russia over the question of Ukraine. America’s leaders continue treating Russia like a pariah. This serves only to militate the Russian leadership against the West. The failure to properly deal with Russia over Ukraine has precipitated increasing tensions between the two nuclear powers just at the moment when such tensions should be drastically reduced.
It is unlikely that, had the United States dealt reasonably with Russia over Ukraine in 2014-2015, Moscow would have been compelled to intervene in Syria. Moscow sought to trade with Washington. When Russia intervened in Syria, Putin had hoped that he could effectively trade his position in the Mideast for a better Ukraine deal. That was a bad gambit and now Putin finds himself mired in Syria.
With Venezuela, however, Putin believes he’s found the missing diplomatic link for his deal over Ukraine. After all, Venezuela is in the United States’ backyard. This is a fact that the White House national security adviser, John Bolton, publicly reiterated in recent days. Moscow seized on these comments to proffer their trade. As Russian political analyst Vladimir Frolov wrote in the Moscow Times, Russian leaders now believe Bolton’s comments are the window of opportunity they’ve been searching for to resolve their long-standing dispute with Washington over Ukraine.
To anyone other than the democratic globalists who populate Washington, the trade is a no-brainer. If Venezuela could be turned into a democratic regime led by an American client, like Juan Guaido, then a nexus of pro-American democracies running from Brazil through Venezuela to Colombia would exist. This trio of states would be instrumental in not only slowing the illicit drug trade in the area, but it would also be integral in pushing back against undesired Cuban influence (Cuba being America’s most serious threat in the Western Hemisphere).
Plus, the reintegration of Venezuela into the world system would allow for American oil companies to tap into Venezuela’s immense oil wealth while at the same time giving Washington the influence it needed to keep world oil prices low—meaning that Russia’s resurgence as a great military power could be stymied over the long-term (Russia is a petro-economy that needs a higher-than-average global oil price to thrive).
Venezuela is in the United States’ historical sphere of influence, could be the missing link in an anti-Cuba alliance, and sits atop vast quantities of oil and natural gas—can someone explain how Syria is more important to U.S. foreign policy than Venezuela, please?
The deal with Russia would be simple: Washington pressures Ukraine’s government to accept the basic outline of the Minsk II agreement that foundered in 2015 while Russia works in tandem with the United States to bring about a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela. The Minsk II agreement would harm Ukrainian sovereignty by allowing Russia to have significant influence over Ukrainian security policies.
Yet, just as Venezuela is a part of America’s sphere of influence, Ukraine is a part of Russia’s historical sphere of influence. And, we’d also be getting Russia, China, and Iran out of our sphere of influence while containing Cuba. We can (and should) lament the loss of sovereignty for these smaller states later. Alas, the limits of American power are being stretched to their breaking point and compromises must be made to save the core of our power base.
Now is the time to protect our respective spheres of influence from the malign influence of external actors.
Besides, if we can’t protect our own sphere of influence then how can we possibly be expected to defend countries farther afield?
Let’s Make a Deal Already
Russia’s fellow autocracies, China, Cuba, Iran—even the supposed NATO member, Turkey—all support Nicolas Maduro. If President Trump threw President Putin a diplomatic bone on Ukraine, then, Putin would help to mitigate the ongoing crisis in Venezuela without risking a wider conflict. After all, it’s in Putin’s interest to rollback Western influence in his sphere of influence rather than continue to support Venezuela. Even if Russia could not persuade its autocratic quasi-allies in China, Iran, Cuba, or Turkey to totally abandon Maduro’s regime, that would only divide the autocrats among themselves—which would serve American interests in the long-term.
The last thing Washington should want is united league of autocracies in Eurasia (which, presently, is being made a reality because of Washington’s hardline policies). In the first season of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, asked the audience what the best way to devour a whale was. His response is applicable to the budding alliance of autocracies in Eurasia: America must take a step back, look at the larger picture, and devour that autocratic alliance one bite at a time.
President Trump is a transactional leader. So, too, is Vladimir Putin. Let’s do the mother-of-all geopolitical deals and get on with more pressing matters of state already. Neither Ukraine nor Venezuela are worth risking a wider war with Russia. And, despite what “experts” in the United States claim, Russia is a declining power with delusions of grandeur. American policy toward Russia has left Putin with little hope. Thus, as he is increasingly boxed in by the West and a rising China to his east, the likelihood of Putin lashing out militarily against the West is higher now than it has ever been.
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