Steve October 9, 2020

Before the first Trump-Biden debate, moderator Chris Wallace listed the six
subjects that would be covered:

The Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race
and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.

According to a recent Gallup survey, Wallace’s topics tracked the public’s
concerns – the top seven of which were the coronavirus, government leadership,
race relations, the economy, crime and violence, the judicial system, morality
and family decline.

As an issue, national security did not even break Gallup’s Top 10. It ranked
below education and homelessness, just above climate change.

Which raises a question?

Can a nation as divided as we are and as distracted as we are by the most lethal
pandemic in 100 years, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,
and the worst racial crisis since the 1960s, conduct a global policy to contain
the ambitions of two rival great powers on the other side of the world and to
create a U.S.-led democratic world order?

Can we build, lead and sustain alliances of dozens of nations to contain Vladimir
Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China as we did the Soviet Union during more
than 40 years of the Cold War?

Are we still up to it? And must we Americans do it?

Or should we let the internal problems and pressures on these two nations do
the primary work of containing their external ambitions?

Case in point: Vladimir Putin’s Russia. While our Beltway elites are obsessed
with Russia and Putin, seeing in them a mortal threat to our democracy, close
observers are seeing something else.

“Putin, Long the Sower of Instability, Is Now Surrounded by It,”
runs a headline in Thursday’s New York Times. The theme also appears
in The Financial Times in a story headlined, “Putin Watches as Flames
Engulf Neighborhood.”

Consider the situation today in Russia’s “near abroad,” the former
republics of the USSR that broke from Moscow’s rule between 1989 and 1991.

The Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – are already in the U.S.-led
NATO alliance. Georgia in the Central Caucasus, the birthplace of Stalin, fought
a war against its Russian neighbor in 2008 and is now a friend and de facto
ally of the United States.

Ukraine, the most populous of the 14 republics to break away from Moscow, is
now the most hostile to Moscow, having watched its Crimean Peninsula in the
Black Sea be amputated by Putin in 2014.

Now, Belarus, Russia’s closest neighbor to the west, is in a political crisis
with weekly demonstrations demanding the ouster of Putin’s ally, longtime autocrat
Alexander Lukashenko, after a fraudulent election.

Putin could be forced to do what he has no desire to do – forcefully intervene
to put down a popular uprising that could cause Belarus to follow Ukraine into
the Western camp.

Now, in the South Caucasus, two former republics of the USSR, Azerbaijan and
Armenia, are again in an open war over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave
wholly within Azerbaijan.

While Armenia, an ally of Russia, is pleading for intervention by Moscow to
halt the war, Turkey is aiding the Azeris militarily, and they seem to be gaining
the upper hand.

Four thousand miles away, in Russia’s Far East, in the city of Khabarovsk,
which is as close to China as Dulles Airport is to D.C., anti-Putin rallies
have become a constant feature of politics.

Last summer, Putin’s political rival Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok,
a nerve agent developed in Soviet laboratories. Navalny has now become a live
martyr and more potent adversary as the Kremlin has failed to come up with a
satisfactory explanation for what appears to have been an attempted assassination.
New German and French sanctions on Russian officials could be forthcoming.

Russians are tiring of Putin’s 20-year rule. His popularity, though high by
European standards, is near its nadir. And Russians have suffered mightily from
the coronavirus and what it has done to their economy.

Now, the pro-Putin regime in Kyrgyzstan on the Chinese border appears to have
been overthrown after another fraudulent election, and Beijing is telling everyone
to stay out.

And how have Putin’s imperial adventures gone?

While his intervention in Syria saved the regime of Bashar Assad and Russia’s
sole naval base in the Mediterranean, the war continues to bleed Mother Russia.

Putin’s intervention on the side of the rebels in Libya, however, has not gone
well. Last year’s rebel drive to capture the capital of Tripoli failed, and
the rebel forces have been forced to retreat back to the east.

Meanwhile, Russia’s economy remains only one-tenth the size of China’s economy,
and its population is also only one-tenth that of China.

Perhaps time is on America’s side in the rivalry with Russia, and war avoidance
remains as wise a policy as it was during the Cold War.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Churchill,
Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West
Lost the World
. To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features
by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at


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