Paul Greenberg

It was just like old times, specifically the Cold War, There was a Russian leader lambasting American imperialism. Addressing an international conference in Munich on security and cooperation, Valdimir Putin did his best to disturb both by reciting a long list of American sins, among them:

-Washington is starting a new nuclear arms race by developing a defense against ballistic missiles. Shades of Ronald Reagan and Star Wars! Remember how the Kremlin used to explain why defense is offense and black is white? Talk abut deja vu.

-Letting the Baltic states into the NATO alliance, rather than uniting Europe and shoring up its defenses, is an aggressive act. Just as deploying Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe during the Reagan Years was an act of provocation, not a deterrent to war. (History, the final judge, said otherwise: There was no war, and soon enough there was no Soviet Union, either.)

-By encouraging democracy in the former Soviet satellites of eastern Europe, and even dispatching international observers to assure free elections in former Soviet satellites, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been turned "into a vulgar instrument of insuring the foreign policy interests of one country." (Gosh, what country could that be? Hint: Its capital is Washington.)

Russia's new autocrat has a point. Freedom, democracy, fair elections Š of course they're in America's national interest. But they also benefit those nations that adopt them and the world in general. Because a freer world would be a safer world. Democracies may have their differences, but free and slave societies tend to have wars.

As familiar as all this Cold War rhetoric is, something's missing. Where's the call for international revolution, for the masses to rise up in revolt? There wasn't a trace of anything like that in Vladimir Putin's polemic. Because now the United States and the West in general are being assailed by a Russian leader, not a Soviet one, and Russia no longer represents a dynamic, revolutionary ideology. Today its leader speaks only for, to borrow a phrase, "the foreign policy interests of one country." The Russian bear has reverted to its 19th Century role as one more great power playing the Great Game of realpolitik, nothing more.

Winston Churchill's old theory about what motivates Russian foreign policy is acutely relevant again: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.