The Simplistic Worldview of Russia Hawks

It is a childish and absurd way to think about statecraft.

For a chess genius, Garry Kasparov has a remarkably simplistic view of the world:

This was further confirmed when the Biden administration waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal between Russia and Germany. The waiver was a tacit endorsement of Mr. Putin as a good investment despite the global outcry over his jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Russian assassinations in Germany and the U.K. and election interference and hacking almost everywhere else.

What we don’t know is what the U.S. gets out of the summit. History has demonstrated time and again that appeasing a dictator only convinces him you’re too weak to oppose him, provoking further aggression.

Sanctioning a German company for Nord Stream 2 when the pipeline is almost completed would have been a clumsy mistake that would have succeeded only in alienating the German government. It is silly to see this as an “endorsement” of Putin in any sense. The administration granted the waiver in recognition that the costs of antagonizing Berlin over a fait accompli were too high, and it would have made a mockery of Biden’s commitment to repairing damaged relations with allies.

Even if one wants a more hawkish Russia policy than we already have, hacking off one of our most important European allies over something that won’t be stopped anyway would be dimwitted. Treating European allies like vassals to be punished is a good way to undermine the alliance, and I suspect the Russian government wouldn’t be sorry to see that happen. Insisting on maximum inflexibility and hostility towards absolutely anything related to Russia is a good way to lose allies and play into the Russian government’s hands. Hawks’ preference for the “tough” but stupid policy option is another reminder that they are terrible judges of which policies make sense even if you agree with their goals.

Portraying the waiver decision or the summit meeting as “appeasement” just confirms that Kasparov detests any form of diplomatic engagement regardless of what it is. It is a childish and absurd way to think about statecraft. Statecraft often requires that our leaders discuss and resolve important issues with counterparts from other countries that we might prefer not to have to deal with.

It is telling that Kasparov has nothing to say about the demise of the Open Skies Treaty, which Biden has foolishly refused to revive. Letting the treaty stay dead is bad for the U.S. and Europe, and rejoining it would have been a boon to our allies. The knee-jerk hawkish position on the treaty is that it should die, so Kasparov can’t mention that Biden is effectively on the same side as Russia hawks on that issue. It is far easier for Kasparov to stick to his cartoonish portrayal of Biden as an appeaser while he throws a tantrum that Biden’s generally unfriendly approach to Russia is not as extremely hard-line as he would like.