It is difficult for Americans to understand Russia because its actions often seem irrational to them. On the other hand, their own ideas about the rational often look strange and even wild to Russians. Having spent all my life comparing the two peoples and their views on themselves and others, I know that this manifests itself at all levels – from everyday to geopolitical, including the current situation in Ukraine.
What’s the question?
On the whole, in my opinion, the Russian approach is more idealistic, one might say metaphysical, while the American one is more technological and mundane. Both have their pros and cons. We, for example, according to Sasha Bashlachev’s precise definition, in the recent past “trampled the field, sowing the sky,” while our overseas antipodes, meanwhile, arranged for themselves an enviable earthly life. But with conscience and justice, their relationship, to put it mildly, is peculiar.
In an extremely simplified way, I used to reduce for myself the worldview differences between the two peoples to the difference in the questions that we put before ourselves. The key Russian questions are why, what for, in the name of what? – Americans are completely uncharacteristic. Perhaps they think that this is understandable by itself. Their main question is how? For example, how to solve the problem most efficiently and quickly. How to specifically improve your life, get benefits, etc. Speaking in Michurinian, how to take favors from nature without waiting for her to offer them herself.
In Russia, it is known that “the smart one will not go uphill”, that “normal heroes always go around”. Do you remember online collections of funny pictures about how “need for inventions is cunning” and is capable, say, of boiling water in a washstand, moreover, under the proud slogan that “such a people is invincible”? Hence, in my opinion, our confidence in the advantages of domestic programming methods.
Americans would not even think of such a thing, they have neither such skills nor such jokes at their own address. They, as a rule, go to the goal in the shortest way, and they try to overcome or destroy the obstacles that arise. But they can also bury their foreheads in the wall, straight to a dead end.
And the usual questions for us from the category of “why?” often lead them to bewilderment – even in situations where it would seem that it is impossible to do without clarifying the motives. Isn’t it natural, for example, to expect from candidates for elective posts, including the presidential one, clear and detailed explanations for the sake of which they go into politics?
In America, however, the demand for such explanations is considered almost a stubborn question. Although, on the other hand, why be surprised? How to talk about the common good in a country built on a maniacal desire for personal success? On the ideology of the “merchant” – in the terms of MGIMO political scientist Kirill Koktysh, who recently explained in detail how in a market democracy the interest of the merchant, by definition purely private, is passed off as public interest with the help of the concept of freedom turned inside out. And by the way, today, by chance, in a British source, I came across the saying of the ancient Scythian sage Anacharsis that “the market is a place specially reserved for people to have a place to deceive and rob each other.”
However, the Americans, as I said, do not particularly bother with scholasticism. Even when conversations arise between them on abstract topics – say, about the meaning of life – they, as I once saw, may well be satisfied with “the answer of a little girl: they say, life is a gift from God, for which I must thank Him.” Good answer, by the way.
“Because I could”
Well, the most egregious and memorable example for me of a frank explanation of the inexplicable was given, of course, by former US President Bill Clinton. To puzzled questions about why he needed to start tricks with the young White House intern Monica Lewinsky and arrange dates right in the working Oval Office, he replied: “I did it because I could.” That is, he could afford it with impunity.
For me, this phrase, which fits both in English and in Russian into six short words, is the essence of all American policy, both foreign and domestic. Moreover – forgive me my American friends, friends – and the essence of the entire philosophy of life of the vast majority of their compatriots.
Actually, they themselves are proud of the fact that in their country “everything is allowed that is not prohibited by law.” Although this is also a myth, exposed before our eyes by the cult of the new racial and social political correctness (woke culture), as well as the “zeroing” and oblivion of everything and everything in favor of the new “cancel culture”.
By the way, the value of the Clinton example for me is primarily that the forced explanation given by him was publicly voiced and remained, so to speak, on the tablets of history. Wordlessly, the same “norm of life” was implied in many other cases.
Remember, for example, dissident Edward Snowden’s exposure of US intelligence spyware, which intercepted the conversations of even the closest American friends and allies? Russian President Vladimir Putin then said ironically that he was “envying” his American colleague, who at that time was Barack Obama, “because he can do it and nothing will happen to him for it.”
As far as I understand, this meant not even the wiretapping of the whole world as such, but the fact that Washington got away with it without any consequences. I didn’t even have to make any special excuses: they just hushed it up for clarity, as we say.
Where is the conscience?
An important common denominator in these episodes, in my opinion, is the absence of any remorse whatsoever. In English, as I once realized with surprise, there is not even a complete analogue of this Russian word. “Shameless” is usually translated into English as “dishonest”, although for the Russian ear it is still not the same thing.
Of course, this does not mean at all that Americans are completely immoral. For the most part, these are decent, kind and sympathetic people, no worse than you and me. But in life they are accustomed to “think strategically”; this is the name of the book that I was once recommended to read in order to understand this issue.
And in this best-selling book by two venerable professors – a popular exposition of game theory for the general reader – there is no place for morality. It simply explains how to “correctly” build a line of one’s behavior, outlining the ultimate goal and step by step counting the steps back from it, to the current position.
And, for example, an episode from the cult Hollywood film about Indiana Jones is analyzed, in which the hero, played by Harrison Ford, choosing at random a bowl of living water from among many bowls of dead water, tries the water himself. According to the authors, this is an obvious mistake in choosing a “dominant strategy”: it turns out that in order to test it, it was necessary to give a drink to … a mortally wounded father.
How do Americans fight?
When I read and assimilated all this in due time, it became clearer to me and much more. For example, the famous “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, perhaps the most famous work of American literature about World War II. Yes, this is a satirical novel, but still in my early youth I was amazed at the main character: how could it be, he is a combat pilot, but he does not think about fulfilling his military duty, but only about how to sneak away from the front and survive. This did not fit into my then Soviet ideas about life.
Now I know that Americans have a long tradition of avoiding military service. The current US President Joe Biden during the years of the Vietnam War “mowed down” from the army, first on the basis of student deferrals, then on a medical certificate about asthma suffered in adolescence. In the same way, only with a different medical diagnosis, did his predecessor in the White House, Donald Trump.
In general, in that generation, according to the Atlantic magazine, “over 15 million men, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle” (all four are former presidents and vice presidents of the United States – approx. TASS) evaded the draft ). In general, the mass resourcefulness was such that where is the good soldier Schweik! But the Americans do not have their own Matrosovs and Gastello, I was specifically interested. Moreover, there are no examples of mass heroism and self-sacrifice.
But there are other, opposite examples of how Americans are fighting: from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Dresden (the destruction of which is described in another famous book, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut) and from Songmy to Belgrade, bombed in 1999. There are also quite recent episodes: it is unlikely that anyone has managed to forget, say, about the torture in Iraqi Abu Ghraib or people who fell off the skin of American aircraft in the sky over Kabul while fleeing from Afghanistan. This was already under Biden, and then, by the way, many saw the way the Americans abandoned their accomplices during the shameful evacuation as a formidable warning for everyone who wants to seek protection from the United States in the future.
Judge by themselves
Well, that’s actually why, in my opinion, people across the ocean are surprised at the course of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine. People judge others by themselves. And in this case, the logic of the American couch strategists is simple: if, they say, the Russians do not hit backhand, then they are not able to. And the possibility of a humane, caring attitude not only to the civilian population, but even to enemy soldiers simply does not occur to them.
And the picture is about the same with sanctions. According to American logic, Moscow seems to be supposed to constantly monitor the “current account” of its foreign policy operations, and as soon as the real or imagined “costs” exceed the expected “benefits” – immediately “change course”, if not completely capitulate. So to speak, stretch the legs along the clothes.
Even across the ocean, many experts understand – and they say directly – that such logic is not applicable to Russia. But this simple truth does not reach official Washington, no matter who expresses it and no matter how it is expressed, even by their own experts (who, by the way, are becoming less and less, because, as Andrey Sushentsov, Dean of the Faculty of International Relations at MGIMO, recently convincingly showed, they simply ceased to systematically train them ), even Russian officials, starting with Putin, even the hero of our cult film, who insists that “strength is in truth”, and not in money. The American authorities continue to believe in their own “dominant strategy”.
Who is irrational?
In principle, this could be brushed aside: let them believe what they want, the flag is in their hands! But, as they say, there are nuances. Firstly, the United States has now really launched an all-out hybrid war against Russia, primarily in the economic and information and propaganda spheres. And secondly, the ability of their current leader to adequately control at least his own behavior is causing growing doubts and fears.
The Biden presidency has not yet been frankly asked. The impression is growing that he came to the White House according to the same “Clinton” principle: simply “because he could.” I’m not sure that he at least really explained to himself why he did it on the way to his 80th birthday.
As a result, according to more and more critics, the American leader was not ready either to solve the country’s current problems or to respond to new challenges. Although both in Afghanistan and Ukraine, they were largely, if not mostly, inspired by Washington itself. And Moscow has many times directly and openly warned that its own strategic patience is running out, that it is simply forced to bluntly raise the issue of guarantees of common indivisible security.
After the start of the special operation in Ukraine, Biden’s instinctive reaction was reduced to “transferring all arrows” to Russia and Putin. Overseas, our country and its leader are indiscriminately blamed for everything from violating the notorious Western “rules-based order” to rising prices at gas stations. Although, by the way, the patriarch of American geopolitics, Henry Kissinger, warned back in 2014 that “for the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not politics, but an alibi for its absence.” And Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently said that official Washington’s complete misunderstanding of Russia causes not only regret, but also anxiety, since it “leads to erroneous and reckless decisions.”
I carefully read the transcript of Biden’s recent speech in Warsaw. The impression, frankly speaking, depressing. The speech is literally full of reservations and blunders, including the mention of Mariupol as the Metropol and “a dollar for 200 rubles.” In social networks, many later mockingly offered the White House to exchange “greens” at such a rate.
The monstrous final chord was the words of the US President that his Russian counterpart “cannot remain in power.” Politicians and diplomats around the world flinched, deciding that this was a signal of a change in Washington’s course, a direct challenge to Moscow. When it later turned out that this was not the case, even UN Secretary General António Guterres found it necessary to emphasize that in the current situation around Ukraine, it is better to avoid rhetoric that is fraught with an escalation of the conflict. Translated into Russian, street jargon means that the market needs to be filtered.
It is clear that intemperance of the tongue, the inability to control oneself, is a sign of weakness, not strength. But that’s just what scares me. After all, this is not about street squabbles, but about relations between nuclear superpowers.
At home, Biden was also immediately reminded of this. Prominent Republican Senator Rand Paul has publicly warned of a “cognitive decline” that is unacceptable for the commander in chief of the armed forces and that poses a “national security risk” to the country. His colleague Tom Cotton urged the president “for the good of the country and the safety of the people … just stop speaking impromptu, holding press conferences and going out to journalists.” In exchange, in his opinion, the “center-right” could agree “not to use this as a pretext for criticism” of the owner of the White House.
To match were the responses in the press. The British Times wrote that Biden’s words are “perhaps the most serious” verbal blunder of his more than half a century political career, replete with various awkwardness (he once called himself a gaffe machine, that is, “a device for the production of reservations”). The American Wall Street Journal questioned “at what point will Joe Biden’s verbal incontinence begin to pose a mortal danger to Americans.” The list is easy to continue.
It is clear in advance that the scandalous oversight will come back to haunt the president himself and his entire ruling Democratic Party more than once politically. Popular TV presenter Tucker Carlson on the conservative Fox News channel has already called for Biden to be removed from power on the basis of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution.
So far, the Republicans do not yet have the political drive belts for this. But already in the fall, as analysts unanimously predict, the opposition will have to regain control of one or both houses of Congress. And then, according to the same forecasts, words will inevitably begin to be backed up by deeds.
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