A Commission to Address U.S.-Russia Relations

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., right, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with Gen. Hulusi Akar of the Turkish army, center, and Gen. Valery Gerasimov of the Russian army in Antalya, Turkey, March 6, 2017. The three chiefs of defense are discussing their nations’ operations in northern Syria. (Dept. of Defense photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Released)

Today, the U.S-Russia relationship is broken, likely caused by actions and reactions from both sides.* There must be a turning back of the clock where the U.S. government peers into the past to discover which post-Cold War decisions, actions, and events caused the break in U.S.-Russia relations. Equipped with such knowledge, American political leaders will better navigate the U.S.-Russia relationship.

The U.S. Congress should call for a top to bottom review of U.S.-Russia relations to discover what went wrong following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

That event had promised a “new world order,” as President George H. Bush called it. A period of peace and prosperity following the end of the Cold War was supposed to descend upon the world. The threat of an apocalyptic nuclear world war was abruptly ended for the foreseeable future.

However, something went terribly wrong. How did America find itself back into the very mud pit it was so happy to exit? How did the straight jacket fasten itself around America again after it struggled so long to take it off?

What is generally known is that in the new world order, U.S.-Russia relations did not first break down during the 2016 U.S. presidential election or with the 2014 Ukraine crisis. There were tensions already in the 1990s during the Clinton presidency, and then a thawing of relations immediately following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. However, tensions returned by the end of the Bush presidency, and then thawed again during Obama’s first term with his famous “reset” of U.S.-Russia relations in 2009.

However, these high and low points of U.S.-Russia relations must be placed under the microscope, from both American and Russian perspectives, and that knowledge combined into a singular understanding may then be absorbed by American politicians.

As Congress did following the September 11 attacks by setting up an independent commission and funding it through a bill signed into law by President George W. Bush, it should do again in regards to U.S.-Russia relations in the post-Cold War era.

The commission should conduct an exhaustive investigation and then issue a landmark report. Commission members should consult experts on Russia and U.S.-Russia relations. They should speak also with Russian experts and travel to Russia, if necessary, in order to interview scholars and officials over there. By discovering both American and Russian perspectives, the Commission will be able to determine what went wrong and offer policy recommendations.

It should be noted that the 9/11 Commission faced challenges as many in the federal government sought to shield themselves from blame. However, a U.S.-Russia relations’ commission may fare better since the applicable events as well as decisions and actions taken by the U.S. and Russian governments vis-à-vis each other are historically documented.

Where the commission may run into challenges is determining why the applicable decisions and actions were taken. However, motives are secondary. It is the actions and events themselves that cause the other side to react.

 

*While U.S.-Russia relations are broken, as the picture above suggests, the break is not so severe as to prevent the heads of the defense departments of the U.S., Russia, and Turkey from meeting to discuss ongoing operations in Syria.

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