Things are always more complicated than what is said in the media. It’s often more complicated than our attention spans allow, (so I am breaking this up). But that doesn’t change reality. And the reality of foreign policy decisions is that it is always really complicated. Look at Russian’s invasion of Crimea. We would like a simple answer, but there isn’t one. The impact of any response is complicated, with far reaching positives and negatives. Even the impact of no response is complicated! There are hundreds of papers out there evaluating the impact of the recent economic sanctions on Russia for that act. There are a lot of things you might not think about beyond the tangible economic effects in the target country. Things like economic effects in the sanctioning countries (trade goes both ways), economic effects on the people of the target country (who generally have no control over their government), and effects on public opinion, domestic and abroad. One such paper opened by cautioning against the use of faulty logic: “We must do something. This is something, therefore we must do this.”
The conduct of a country should mirror exactly that of an individual: lead by example with honesty and integrity. Cooperate. Make friends. Treat everyone with respect. Use empathy to guide your actions. Work hard. Attitude is everything. Don’t fight unless you have to.
As a leader, you ask the same questions of yourself in searching for the best course of action, whether it is individually, as a group, domestically, or abroad.
You always ask: “What am I trying to accomplish?” And then follow that with, “Is this going to achieve that goal, and how sure are we about that? What are the negative side effects? Are they worth it?”
One questions that should carry little or no weight for our leaders but seems instead a guiding principle: “How will this make me look in the local media?” (And that is because our system mandates that the goal of all political actions is re-election… but I digress…)
Stick to: what are the options? For each option, what are the pros and cons? What are the risks? Will these actions help achieve my goal?
Allow me to apply my own line of thinking to the Russia for the sake of discussion, so at least you can see my line of thinking.
When I was a kid growing up during the cold war, the USSR was our enemy. The threat of nuclear war seemed very real, though I admit that I could never quite get my head around the idea that the people there hated and feared us so much that they would kill us all and destroy the world. Why were these such bad people? Because they had a communist government? That fact never really scared me, partially because I didn’t really understand any way of life but my own. The real fear was that someone would get tricked into thinking the other started it, and we would both blow each other up over a misunderstanding (the premise of many a movie).
When the cold war ended and the wall came down, it solidified my belief that the Russian people don’t hate us. They don’t want to invade us, and they sure don’t want to destroy the world. In fact, it seems they would like to be a bit more like us. They are proud people with a diverse and complex history, but they would prefer to enjoy life with friends and family, just like us. They are not our enemy. So why would we treat them as such?
Because they want to be a superpower.
So what? If they are an ally, isn’t that better? Couldn’t we use a few strong friends?
Remember: no matter what you might hear, we remain the leaders of the world. We are the trendsetters, the benchmark that everyone compares themselves to. We are the kid in school that has it all: looks, grades, sports success, loved by everyone, students and teachers alike. But wait, there are no teachers here, just us kids on the playground. So when someone else wants to prove themselves, what do you do? Do you punch them in the face to make sure you keep them in their place? Or do you extend a hand and help them be the best they can be?
Where it gets complicated is when you try to separate the people of Russia from the controlling government of Russia. Because Putin doesn’t think like us, he doesn’t have the same values, and we can’t approach him with the same logic you would use on a college professor and expect the same reactions. We are back on the playground now, except the metaphor is even more applicable, which is not such a bad thing. Because Putin is a bit of a bully, and bullies are if nothing else, predictable.
More to follow….