February 19, 2017

I wrote this piece almost 6 months ago. I thought I would repost it. 

A lot has changed and the most important things have not. 

The fundamental dangers (failed states, refugees, terrorism, nuclear proliferation) and tensions remain the same. 

We now have a major concern (the specific facts of which remain unclear) about Russia's involvement in and influence on the outcome of our Presidential election. We need to investigate and determine the nature of the communications between the Trump administration and Russian authorities before the election.

Putin continues to be demonized; President Trump is assaulted for wanting to find grounds of cooperation with Russia. People question the motives for his avowed respect for Putin's leadership. 

As we unravel these legitimate questions, let us not forget this reality:  we cannot achieve the interests of our Nation and the World nor can Russia achieve its own interests, unless we work together on the key issues of nuclear proliferation, failed states and terrorism even as we disagree on others. 

And this cannot be done by demonizing each other. We did not do that during the Cold War. 

AUGUST 23, 2016


 It is difficult for an individual or indeed a Nation to view a particular situation through the eyes of another person or nation.

I have never seen this more true or more dangerous than what is transpiring now in the relationships between the United States and Russia.

As a former CEO of Procter & Gamble and a student  of history, I have followed the relationship between the U.S and Russia (and before that the former Soviet Union) for half a century. From a peak of hope in the early 1990's in the possibility of our joining together in the vision of a Greater Europe, 
I have become increasingly and alarmingly concerned by the deeply polarized perceptions  of the intentions of  our two nations. 

Fueled by Russia's annexation of Crimea and its (as well as our own) involvement in Syria, this fever has boiled and become intensely personal  as  the President of  Russia, Vladimir Putin has become demonized. 

The situation has become further politicized as Donald Trump, whose views I disagree with on most counts, advocates , rightly I believe,  cooperation with Russia in fighting ISIS, even as he outlandishly (facetiously or not ) calls on Russia to hack the DNC's and Secretary Clinton's e-mail accounts. For me, Trump is the apposite of someone you want to be advocating your point of view because he encourages his opponents to reflexively adopt or double down on contrary views. 

Why am I so concerned about this situation?  Because  I believe the failure of Russia and the U.S. and West to work together threatens the  security and indeed the very existence of the world because of the overhanging and  related risks of nuclear annihilation and terrorism. 

There is a great and common danger in the affairs of humans and of nations in self-fulfilling expectations.  These self-fulfilling expectations can be for the better or they can be for the worse.  The expectations held by Russia toward the United States and those the United States holds toward Russia today are all “for the worse.”

Contrary to what was promised as Germany was reunited and became part of  NATO as we entered the 1990's, NATO  continued to expand to Russia's doorsteps. The belief that Ukraine might be next, was a precipitating cause of the  Ukrainian crisis. As a colleague of mine has said, whether NATO is a benign or a malign force is irrelevant from a geopolitical perspective if one of Europe's great powers (Russia, a country which has been subject to multiple invasions over the course of history) considers it a threat. The dismissal of these concerns  has deeply exacerbated Russia's mistrust. 

And that mistrust has been matched on our end by the impact of Russia's annexation of Crimea and presence in Eastern Ukraine,  entry into Syria supporting Assad and the alleged (though unproven) involvement in our electoral process.  

We hear veiled and sometimes bald assertions that Russia intends to enter countries previously part of the Soviet empire--the Baltics, Poland and all of Ukraine.  Putin describes such a notion as “insane.”   He is right.  

Can you imagine the suicidal idiocy of Russia's undertaking to move into those countries?  Why would they do this?  They don't need land. They would find very few friends there.  They would become the pariah of the world. There is no driving ideology as there was in the days  of Soviet Communism.  

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about President Putin. Some of them are serious. In terms of encouraging a positive relationship with the United States, he is in some ways his own worst enemy. His distrust of our motives now borders on paranoia. 

 However, we should not forget that he was the very first President to call President Bush to offer his nation's unbounded support following "9-11". 

Whatever, my concerns are existential. 

I worry deeply that most people are so far removed from the reality of war today that we have forgotten its horror. We should all go back and look at the film showing the instantaneous annihilating devastation resulting from the atomic bomb  at Hiroshima. It won't be pleasant but we should watch movies  like “Platoon” or “Saving Private Ryan”. We should read Michael Herr's devastating front line reports on the war in Vietnam. We dare not forget the horrific cost of war on human life and civilization.  

We cannot address this overhanging threat unless we are working with Russia. That is the plain and simple truth. 

We are at a historical precipice.  I am extremely worried by the unfettered “propaganda,” and that’s what it is, on both sides of the issue.  This has had the insidious effect of bringing the people of Russia and of the United States to view the “other” as “evil.”  And in fact they are not.  They are committed to their own national interests.  The concerns of the Russian and American people are fundamentally the same. . They yearn for a peaceful, economically stable life for their children and themselves

Every nation, every person, wants to be treated with respect.  There is no way that will happen if we are not able to view the current situation through each other’s eyes.  That doesn’t mean we will compromise and tolerate people taking away the freedom of another nation or people.  We need to draw a bright line on the support we will provide to countries to which we pledge support--and mean it. 

 However  we should not make the mistake of attributing motivations and nefarious intent to other nations which, in fact, they disclaim and which, as we examine the reality of the situation,  we see no persuasive  reason to assume.  

We need to stop carrying out diplomacy and negotiations through the media and "anonymous" third parties, seeking sharp headlines that show we “mean business” and are "tough".  We need to establish what the bright lines and  bases for cooperation  are.  We need to rebuild trust-based relationships. This will be very hard; many will say there is no point in trying.  It will require courage and stamina, but it is what we must do. We should do so privately through credible leaders, starting with our Presidents and foreign service secretaries, just  as we did in the later years of the Reagan Administration and that of George H.W. Bush.  

I pray for the wisdom and courage of these leaders. 

I  believe the future of our Nation and the world depends on it. 

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