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Taking on Russia

By James W. Carden

An important step in the growing movement challenging the established foreign policy consensus with regard to U.S.-Russia policy has been taken with the launch of the new American Committee for East-West Accord.

As the Washington foreign policy establishment finds itself firmly in the grip of a bipartisan consensus, which seeks to fan the flames of conflict in eastern Ukraine by, among other moves, agitating for weapons deliveries to Kiev, U.S.-Russian relations have sunk to their lowest point since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

The Committee hopes to impact the tenor of the debate over U.S.-Russian policy and the crisis in Ukraine by elevating the tone of the discussion from one dominated, at least in the United States, by ad hominem attacks and baseless assertions to a dialogue that centers around a civil discussion regarding the interests of the nations involved and the ethics of the means chosen to achieve those interests. This we hope will be done though open debate and civilized dialogue with those who are opposed to achieving any sort of detente or a modus vivendi with Russia.

The parties opposing any kind of rapprochement with Russia have been, and clearly remain, ascendant. From the time the crisis in Ukraine began in late 2013, leading foreign policy voices within the Obama administration including UN Ambassador Samantha Power and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, have strived to paint the crisis in simple black and white terms: the Maidan revolutionaries like Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk are the good guys and Vladimir Putin is the bad guy, and but for Putin’s often-described aggression the crisis would not have occurred on the first place.

Yet those who have repeatedly (and so-far with little success) pointed out that perhaps matters aren't so simple, have been the target of critics who question not only their premises but their patriotism as well. Anyone who has had the temerity to question whether NATO’s relentless expansion eastward to Russia’s borders has contributed to the crisis, can look forward to being labeled a “useful idiot,” a “dupe,” or a “Kremlin apologist.” The trend towards character assassination in lieu of substantive debate has been one of the defining features of the debate over US-Russia policy in the late Obama years.

And so, one of the reasons the time is right for a new Committee is that there are increasing similarities between debates of a generation ago, particularly with regard to our opposite numbers, who, by and large, are made up of a band of neoconservative activists who during the height of the Cold War comprised the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). To give a sense of how little has changed in the ensuing decades, the CPD, anticipating much of the overheated rhetorical bombast aimed at Vladimir Putin's government that we hear today, issued a statement in 1977 that read, in part:

“The Soviet military build-up of all its armed forces over the past quarter century is, in part, reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s rearmament in the 1930s."

That type of rhetoric, it seems, has never gone out of fashion for neoconservatives of a certain stripe and remains one of the true stumbling blocks towards holding a civilized and enlightened dialogue which the current iteration the Committee for East-West Accord hopes to inspire.

The Committee’s founding board is made up of several eminent former public servants, businessmen and scholars whose diverse backgrounds and careers who all share a sense of alarm over what is fast developing into a new Cold War and perhaps even an armed U.S.-Russia confrontation in eastern Europe. The Board includes former Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley, former American Ambassadors William vanden Heuvel and Jack Matlock, businessmen with long experience in Russia, such as former Procter and Gamble CEO John Pepper and the Brussels-based executive Gilbert Doctorow, as well as two eminent scholars of U.S.-Russian relations and Soviet History, Ellen Mickiewicz of Duke and Stephen F. Cohen of Princeton and NYU.

While the Committee is new, its name evokes a distinguished predecessor, the Committee on East-West Accord, which was the leading pro-detente group in the latter half of the Cold War. The old Committee on East-West Accord boasted such luminaries as the scholar, diplomat George F. Kennan, former Under Secretary of State George Ball, Pepsico Chair Donald Kendall, and our own Stephen F. Cohen.

To help achieve its goals, the Committee has launched a companion web site, EastWestAccord.com which features its Mission Statement, several initial proposals for ending the crisis, biographical information on the Founding Board and updates from our European coordinator, Gilbert Doctorow. The site also features the latest opinions and headlines on U.S.-Russia and the Ukraine crisis in the News and Analysis sections as well as a small but growing archive of Official Statements from the American and Russian governments.

We hope that the site will serve as a non-partisan resource for policymakers and citizens who are concerned about what seems to be a headlong rush into a new and potentially more dangerous new Cold War with Russia.

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James W. Carden, a Nation contributing writer, is the executive editor of EastWestAccord.com.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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