Friday, June 22, 2007
Rumble at the Capitol?
I think that to some extent the American members of Congress came in with a pre-prepared script: praise Russia as a nation or culture, highlight common interests, and then present the laundry list of complaints (a la John McCain in the Financial Times) to a visiting Duma delegation that was supposed to sit back and accept this guidance.
Some of the Russians may have wanted to score some political points of their own by "standing up".
I think what is useful about the session, assuming that people attended with an eye to learning and not just making their statements, is:
--For the Russians, to get a sense of the feelings of frustration that many Americans have over a number of key issues and to see how deeply this resonates in the Congress--and that the Congress is not giving a blank check on Russia policy to the president.
--For the Americans, to understand that there is a Russian perspective on issues and that it does not accord always with the U.S. one, and that this is not just a matter of communicating better (or of people having more democratic credentials). Also that non-Americans just don't like being lectured to. And that everyone has an "image" to cultivate "back home."
Thunderstorms, after all, are full of sound and fury but they often clear the air as well.
What exactly? Whats on offer? What does Russia have to gain?
So the US Congress is frustrated over a number of key issues. Boo-hoo. The Russians had a country torn apart and had the economy of the remnant cut in half by a depression that makes the US Great Depression look like a Sunday afternoon picnic, during which the death rate in Russia rose by about 50% while the birth rate dropped nearly in half. Meanwhile the US Congress approved every suggestion on how to exploit that situation to unilateral US advantage.
I don't think the Russian representatives cared much for the frustration the US Congressmen expressed.
And as for the prospect of blank Congressional checks to the president, the Russian government are long past the expectation that the US government will actually do anything for them.