Tom left a comment on his own blog which is thought-out, well-written, and important he should upgrade it to being a post.
Fantastic piece by Spengler (Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog)
The level of economic connectedness Russia has with the outside world, plus the network connectedness, is VAST compared to the Cold War. People unaware of that change are simply unaware of history.
People seem to ignore that delta, plus the huge cost involved in containing the Soviet Union for so long.
I grew up in that world for 27 years before the Wall came down, so yes, I will most definitely be among the slowest when it comes to blithely restarting the Cold War. I am well aware of the costs involved in getting Russia to this point in history, and I don’t advocate pissing that all away over Georgia.
People simply aren’t thinking this thing through and being realistic about the costs. They want their macho responses and are ready to commit on Saakashvili’s decision.
I find that response too short-sighted, too emotional, too unstrategic and just plain too fast.
The real problem here, decision-making-wise, is that we’re more scared about the world right now than Russia is. And I find that sort of wobbliness rather disturbing in its hyperbolic tendencies.
The most important sentence is the first. It ties to Tom’s thinking that we should focus on direction, not degree. Tom argues that because Putin’s Russia is so much more open and outward-looking that Brezhnev’s Russia, Putin should be seen as a reformer in the same way that Deng Xiaoping was.
The difference is that Deng was not only a reformer compared to the previous epic-making leader (Mao Zedong), he also was a reformer compared to the interim leader Hua Guofeng (who died yesterday). Deng was bringing China in the right direction, compared to the short-term (Hua Guofeng’s Two Whatevers policy), the medium term (compared to Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution), and the long term (compared to China since the socialist revolution).
Deng Xiaoping was a reformer.
But what is the direction of Vladimir Putin’s Russia? Compared to Brezhnev’s, Putin’s direction is arguably more positive — no better with regards to interstate war, democracy, open governance, life expectancy, and so on. However, Putin’s Russia is an oil company pretending to be a government, as opposed to a quasi-revolutionary state that people believed in. Along with this, Russia imports consumer goods with the capital its energy export provides (that is, Russia spends its income on economically nonproductive consumer goods), as opposed to misappropriating them into factories that make worthless tractors (that is, Russia spends its income on economically nonproductive industrial goods).
Unlike Brezhnev, with whom a comparison is hard, Putin is easily seen as regressive compared to Moscow’s other great leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev direction was strongly positive, bringing in economic reforms and political reforms, combined with the first attempts to attract investment capital (v. the flight of wealth under Putin). Likewise, Yeltsin was easily a more open and “soft-powerful” leader.
When it comes to Russia, focus on direction, not degree:
The degree of Russian openness may be historically high now, but that is because of other reformers, such as Gorbachev and Yeltsin.
The direction of Russia is in the direction of closure, pulling a dying state offline, and attempting to safe-guard a national oil company at the expense of the Russian people.
Focus on direction, not degree: Recognize Russia as the enemy of globalization that it is.