U.S. should strive for a more re­al­is­tic di­a­logue with Rus­sia

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - SHRABASTI SAHA, AUSTIN JA­COB REECE, AUSTIN

If any­thing pos­i­tive can be said to emerge from the alarm­ing rev­e­la­tions of Rus­sian med­dling in our pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, it is that the blow­back seems to have forced Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to back away from the cozy re­la­tion­ship he was try­ing to de­velop with Vladimir Putin.

Yet, we also need to avoid a dan­ger­ous slide to­ward con­fronta­tion. Hav­ing ne­go­ti­ated with Rus­sians dur­ing my di­plo­matic ca­reer, I know we must deal with Rus­sia — and we need a set of guid­ing prin­ci­ples to move us for­ward.

First, we should dis­abuse our­selves of the no­tion that the prob­lems we face with Rus­sia are the re­sult of blun­ders by past U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions. The Rus­sia we see to­day is a re­sult of what Rus­sians have done — and it is the Rus­sia we will be deal­ing with for some time to come.

Sec­ond, we should stop telling Rus­sians what their in­ter­ests should be and un­der­stand bet­ter how Rus­sians see their in­ter­ests, and deal with that re­al­ity. Win­ston Churchill fa­mously said that “Rus­sia is a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery in­side an enigma,” but we tend to for­get the line that fol­lowed: “But per­haps there is a key. That key is Rus­sian na­tional in­ter­est.”

Rus­sian in­ter­ests are not that hard to fathom. Rus­sians want to be free of out­side in­ter­fer­ence in their in­ter­nal af­fairs. They want to ex­er­cise de facto con­trol over the “near abroad,” es­pe­cially Ukraine and other coun­tries of the for­mer Soviet Union, and they want to ex­tend their in­flu­ence to Eastern Europe. They want to di­vide Europe and to di­vide Europe from the United States — and they want to be treated as a great power. This is the short list of Rus­sian in­ter­ests to which vir­tu­ally ev­ery Rus­sian leader would sub­scribe.

Amer­i­cans do not agree with many of those in­ter­ests, nor should we. Some of them we should vig­or­ously op­pose. But we can take them as a start­ing point for a more re­al­is­tic di­a­logue with Rus­sia, fo­cus­ing par­tic­u­larly on flash­points.

For ex­am­ple, we could ratchet back some of our sup­port for do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion groups in­side Rus­sia — a flash­point for Rus­sians. In re­turn, Putin must cease his cy­ber­war against the U.S. and its al­lies — a flash­point for us.

Next, we could sig­nal our ac­knowl­edg­ment — even if not our en­dorse­ment — of Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests in its im­me­di­ate neigh­bor­hood, but we would make it clear that the Baltic states and other coun­tries of Eastern Europe, as NATO al­lies, are in a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory. Rus­sia must keep hands off if it wishes to avoid a mil­i­tary col­li­sion with the West.

We main­tained manageable re­la­tions with Rus­sia, and be­fore that with the Soviet Union, for years. This year marks the 30th an­niver­sary of the U.S.-Soviet in­ter­me­di­ate nu­clear forces treaty. It is a re­minder that deals can be struck even with ad­ver­saries, and that the two nu­clear su­per­pow­ers, de­spite their dif­fer­ences, can man­age their re­la­tion­ship to avoid a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing con­flict.

But Rus­sia crossed a thresh­old in 2014 with the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and a cam­paign, still on­go­ing, to desta­bi­lize Ukraine. The aim of U.S. pol­icy should be to re­store the sta­tus quo ante: to re­turn to the U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tion­ship that ex­isted be­fore 2014, rather than see it con­tinue to plum­met down­ward.

The aim should be not a strate­gic part­ner­ship but a strate­gic un­der­stand­ing with the one coun­try on the planet that could pose an ex­is­ten­tial threat to the U.S. Our in­ter­ests di­verge in many ways, but they con­verge in some, such as avoid­ing nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion, com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and main­tain­ing a bal­ance of power in Europe and Asia.

This means that we need to play the long game, as Rus­sians do. It also means that we must forge the clos­est pos­si­ble re­la­tions with our Euro­pean and Asian al­lies, so that we speak and act with one ac­cord, and that we must main­tain sta­ble and pre­dictable re­la­tions with the other ma­jor world power, China.

It is un­likely that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion can pull off such as pa­tient strat­egy, but we can at least hope that the back­lash in Congress will pre­vent the ad­min­is­tra­tion from tak­ing us down a naïve and dan­ger­ous road. This is a re­la­tion­ship that calls for a com­bi­na­tion of tough­ness and skill­ful diplo­macy, not im­pul­sive am­a­teurism.

Re: Aug. 6 let­ter to the ed­i­tor, “Let the pros op­er­ate VA health fa­cil­i­ties.”

No, we do not know what a dis­as­ter the Veter­ans Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion is. There are wait prob­lems in places, but the VA is a fantastic suc­cess over­all. My brother’s ex­pe­ri­ences over the last 20 years with the VA have been great. He is presently in the San Juan VA hos­pi­tal. My brother has noth­ing but warm feel­ings for how well the VA sys­tem has worked for him.

Wait times in the Chicago VA are two weeks. What are the wait times for your health net­work? Mine is al­most a month.

The let­ter writer who wanted to sell VA as­sets to pri­vate health net­works is ex­tremely mis­guided.

Pri­vate health care is a ma­lig­nant tu­mor on Amer­ica’s econ­omy. This coun­try does not need to go down that use­less, need­lessly ex­pen­sive road.

Racism is not just a prob­lem that is preva­lent in mat­ters of so­cial be­hav­ior. It has crept into other as­pects of ev­ery­day life, such as ed­u­ca­tion, in­come and even en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sources. The rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment has been ex­tremely detri­men­tal to the planet; we are fac­ing an en­ergy cri­sis. But why is this phe­nom­e­non linked to racism?

Years of marginal­iza­tion has led to a point where mi­nori­ties have been forced to live in ar­eas where clean wa­ter, steady elec­tric­ity and clean air are scarce. What is dis­grace­ful is that these mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties are not even partly re­spon­si­ble for these dingy con­di­tions. Their back­yards be­come dumps for the rich. The growth of large cor­po­ra­tions and rapid in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion by richer com­mu­ni­ties have led to colos­sal amounts of pol­lu­tion.

We need to take a step back to re­or­ga­nize our pri­or­i­ties. Is the rapid eco­nomic growth worth the costs of en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age and in­jus­tice?

Re: Aug. 4 ar­ti­cle, “Girl­friend who urged sui­cide given 15 months.”

Just my quick opin­ion on the Michelle Carter sen­tenc­ing: I don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with the sen­tence and weight of pun­ish­ment. Her texts show di­rect in­tent to per­suade Con­rad Roy to kill him­self so that she would be the cen­ter of at­ten­tion as the griev­ing girl­friend. She has shown lit­tle re­morse dur­ing the trial.

I per­son­ally be­lieve she should have been given a much harsher pun­ish­ment for what she did, maybe 2 years in prison plus pro­ba­tion. De­spite the prece­dence it may set for fu­ture cases of this kind, I be­lieve that would have been the right call.

TAMIR KAL­IFA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

The bar and restau­rant in­dus­try added 53,000 po­si­tions, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est jobs re­port.

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