It's the Russians, Stupid

Like the police and district attorneys described by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, the streets outside these days are besieged by Republicans running about with their noses to the ground, trying to discover the identity of their redeemer. They should look up -- and east.

It's the Russians, stupid.

His name is Vladimir Putin.

It hardly ever happens in history that the partisan, parochial interests of a political party line up perfectly with the national security interests of the nation, its core values, and the best interests of the Western World, but such is the case right now. If the Republican Party doesn't realize and capitalize on this golden opportunity, it will richly deserve being consigned to the dustbin of history.

Republicans cannot hope to oust the Democrats from their heavily fortified position in the field of domestic policy, at least not until their economic plans prove fruitless. But the nation does not trust the Democrats to handle foreign policy now any more than it did when Jimmy Carter -- brought in to cure the domestic evils wrought by Richard Nixon -- governed.  Barack Obama's policies towards America's enemies abroad are benighted, naïve, and ignorant -- exactly what one would expect from a man who has no foreign policy credentials of any kind. Given America's perilous financial condition and the encouragement it gives to our foes, this is a time when the country can least afford such policies, and it is high time for the white knights of the Republican Party to ride to the nation's defense, pulling their own political bacon out of the fire in the process.

Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation has shown the way.  In a brilliant and exhaustively researched white paper published a few days ago and cumbersomely entitled, "How the Obama Administration should deal with Russia's Revisionist Foreign Policy," Cohen makes, in essence, a five-point proposal the Obama administration should take in response to Russia, as follows:

  • Bolster NATO, focusing on Russia's weaponization of energy and its attacks on Ukraine and Georgia

  • Refuse nuclear arms reduction negotiation until a review of U.S. strategic interests is complete and until Russia cooperates in neutralizing Iran and gives strict guarantees on U.S. business interests being protected from nationalization

  • Confront Russian aggression in Venezuela, Syria, and the Arctic

  • Develop a Marshall Plan for weaning Europe off Russian gas and oil

  • Press forward with missile defense in Eastern Europe

Obama won't do any of these things (he's already signaled weakness on missile defense and may actually end up doing the opposite in many cases if left to his own devices), so it's up to the Republican Party to force him to do so. In the process, Republicans can expose the inability of the Democrats to defend the nation from its enemies and, in fact, to uphold the core values of democracy and liberalism that Democrats supposedly hold dear.

Americans must remember that the economic crisis has hit Russia far harder than it has hit the West. Russia has experienced a breathtaking collapse in its stock market, radically depleted its reserves, and endured a massive currency devaluation. Inflation is soaring out of control and unemployment is going right along for the ride. It's a perfect storm, and it gives the U.S. and its NATO allies the perfect opportunity to press Russia hard in all the areas where its behavior is most outrageous. Russia, of course, wants to buy time.

Contrast, then, Cohen's brilliance (he's a seasoned Russia scholar) with the shabby, cowardly, and idiotic musings of Democratic flameout Gary Hart and Republican turncoat Chuck Hagel as part of a "committee" sponsored by Russian Dmitri Simes of the wacky and disturbing Nixon Center. They are two relative Russia laymen, who say they are "deeply concerned by the gap between the current U.S.-Russian relationship and the level of cooperation that the United States needs with Russia in order to advance vital American interests."

This is, quite simply, the Kremlin's own message, being echoed back to us by our own citizens. The Kremlin wants America to believe it "needs" Russia and therefore should allow Russia to do as it likes as long as Russia "cooperates" in the fields of nuclear arms reduction and, now, terrorism.

We heard this left-wing drumbeat all through the Reagan years, and Republicans wisely turned a deaf ear.  The USSR went down in defeat. Ronald Reagan showed it was possible to do business with Russia on nuclear weapons and still hold Russia's feet to the fire on America's core values by standing up for those within Russia who would like to breathe free.

Even as Hart and Hagel were sounding their clarion call of appeasement, Russian "president" Dmitry Medvedev was talking as if they were an artillery barrage designed to soften up his opposition for yet another round of crackdowns and brutal murders.  And maybe, just maybe, that's exactly what they were.  He ominously intoned that he'd discovered heretofore unknown "debts" owed by Russia's private sector to the state, asserting:  "Nowhere in the world perhaps has the development of entrepreneurship in recent times happened as quickly as in our country.  People simply have been getting very rich in a very short time.  Now it is time pay off debts, moral debts because the crisis is a test of maturity." Those who prefer not to voluntarily turn over their assets, one presumes, will go the way of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who faces a second trial on the same charges he's already been convicted of and life in a Siberian jail cell.

Medvedev's language, of course, is no different than what we heard in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. Russia is moving towards a formal installation of a proud KGB spy, Vladimir Putin, as "president for life" -- progress the KGB was never allowed to make even in the worst of Soviet times. It has liquidated just about every aspect of civil society, from newspapers to political parties, so that now even as the economy collapses like a house of cards Putin retains 75%+ approval in opinion polls, just as in the Soviet era.

And Medvedev wasn't done. He followed up on his neo-Communism with some bellicose Cold War aggression, announcing a massive new military buildup, heedless of the brutal economic privations being visited on the public -- again, just as in Soviet times. Russia's defense minister backed up his boss by issuing a series of paranoid anti-American rants about U.S. plans to encircle and destroy Russia and the need for a gigantic new arms race to combat these evil intentions.

It is time for America to answer this challenge -- and that posed by radical Islam. America will not do so unless the Republican Party leads it in that direction. By taking up this mantle, the Republicans can bring themselves back to life, and they will have the added advantage of driving back to the margins those who would prevent the party from courting mainstream support and who are growing increasingly potent in the vacuum of power that the recent election has created.

But more importantly, Republicans can prevent the erection of a neo-Soviet state in Russia and a new, protracted Cold War conflict that will cause Russia to once again disintegrate (as it has done several times in the past century). This is not only good for America 's national interests and those of her Western allies; it's also good for Russia. It's abundantly clear now that Russians will not be able to stop Putin any more than they were able to stop Stalin. If Americans won't help them, their nation will descend once again into chaos at the cost of countless human lives.

Surely, Republicans can be at least as Reaganite as Hillary Clinton. Amazingly, the new secretary of state has made a couple of bold moves after taking power, which indicates she was serious about her tough anti-Putin rhetoric during the campaign. First, she boldly announced on her first trip to Europe that the U.S. stood foursquare behind NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia -- as firm a poke in Putin's eye as one might wish for. She followed that up with a stunning meeting with Veronika Marchenko, head of the "Mother's Right" NGO, which routinely confronts Putin over the abusive practices of the Russian army, handing her a major State Department honor. Clinton even managed to get  Mrs. Obama in on the act.

These are actions that stun the Kremlin, directly flout its power, and inspire those in Eastern Europe and behind the new Iron Curtain. They are actions that Republicans should applaud -- especially since they highlight how far out in front of Obama himself his own State Department is becoming -- and should seek to better. Clinton has no more guarantee that her ideas will hold currency in the Obama administration than Colin Powell did during the Bush years, and symbolic gestures can only go so far. As Cohen demonstrates, there is a real need to translate ideas into action where Russia is concerned, and to do so quickly.

Nothing of the kind can be expected from Obama, who would be distracted by domestic issues even if he understood Russia. The nation has never needed the Republicans more.