Obama’s policies have hardly improved relations between Russia and the U.S. Putin recently rejected Obama’s invitation to the G8 summit at Camp David, choosing to visit the Russian-occupied areas of Georgia instead. The message is plain: The U.S. decision to scrap the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic was perceived as a sign of weakness that Moscow could exploit.
Russia’s goal now is to convince the U.S. to abandon the missile-defense program altogether and to accept Russia’s undisputed hegemony in Central Asia and the Caucasus and over states such as Ukraine and Belarus. An impudent escalation of demands after a conciliatory gesture is a practice very much in line with the historical habit of Russian politics, and with Putin’s desire to maintain his strongman image at home.
Moreover, Obama may not be able to reset the “reset” policies, especially after having already antagonized CEE. Germany may win the day by achieving both strategic alliance with Russia and close ties with CEE states concerned by Russia’s growing power.
And this is merely the beginning of the U.S.’s geopolitical problems. On June 5, Russia and China signed a number of economic agreements and have vowed to tighten their cooperation at the U.N. and on international matters generally. Among other things, this means sustained gridlock on the civil war in Syria. Indeed, if one adds China to the Eurasian equation, it becomes clear that, in the long run, a vast Euro-Asiatic coalition stretching from Brittany to Sakhalin is plausible. It is probable that such a coalition would effectively countervail against U.S. power.
George Friedman argues in his latest book that preventing an expansionist agenda consisting of European technology joined to Asian resources has been an important goal of American foreign policy for almost a century — and that, in this regard, little will change in the near future. According to Friedman, in order to prevent the grand Eurasian coalition, the U.S. must cooperate with small and medium-sized countries, particularly those in Scandinavia and in Central and Eastern Europe between the Baltic and the Black Seas (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania) – countries uneasy about the growing ambitions of Euro-Asiatic super-weight players. .
“If Poland believes that it is a bargaining chip,” Friedman writes, commenting on recent developments in U.S. foreign policy, “it will become unreliable, and thus in the course of the next decade the United States might get away with betraying Poland only once. Such a move could be contemplated only if it provided some overwhelming advantage, and it is difficult to see what that advantage could be, given that maintaining a powerful wedge between Germany and Russia is of overwhelming interest to the Unites States.”
Without American support for a “wedge” policy, Prime Minister Tusk and Foreign Minister Sikorski will act as pragmatic politicians should and side with Germany. But I understand my British friend’s surprise at the shift in their rhetoric and policies. After all, Polish political culture is much closer to the Anglosphere’s republican tradition than it is to the Russian autocratic or the German bureaucratic model.
Poland was the second nation after the U.S. to adopt a written constitution; it did so barely four years after the Philadelphia convention. The internally unstable Polish republic did not long weather the political storms that are so frequent in CEE, and the demise of the first Polish state was accompanied by the dismemberment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Not long before, this political body had been one of the most populous European states. In the 17th century, it granted a wider franchise than England and did not base it on a property census. Western historians often forget that the Polish parliament passed its own version of habeas corpus 250 years before the English did.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, or Republic of Two Nations, as it called itself, is explicitly mentioned in five of the Federalist Papers. Mentions of it there are sometimes critical, but they suggest that the American Founders saw between the two young nations a similarity that invited deeper comparison. The authors of the Federalist Papers demonstrate an impressive expertise in Polish and Central European history and culture. As the Founders admit, their aim was to facilitate the creation of another federal republic, one that avoided the flaws of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth but resembled it in trying to govern a large territory and a large population through elected offices.
Learning from history is a practice that the current U.S. administration might want to revive. Most of the world’s population is historically conscious and does not inhabit a postmodern wonderland where, as if by pressing a button, one can “reset” long decades of complex relations between nations. Conversely, a seasoned superpower that is successfully ahistorical in its foreign policy would be hard to imagine. After committing enough blunders, the elites of the superpower might watch as players that otherwise would never cooperate come together to form a coalition to diminish its influence.
— Michael Kuz is an instructor at the political-science department of Louisiana State University. He was named Bernard Marcus Fellow by the Institute for Humane Studies in 2011–12 and is an active member of the Philadelphia Society.