Sunday, January 01, 2017

We Learned the Wrong Lesson of Versailles

A quarter century ago, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Believing that the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I had been too harsh on Germany, leading directly to World War II as Germany tried to regain what they'd lost--and more, the West tried to cushion the clear defeat in the Cold War that Russia experienced as their Soviet empire fell apart from East Germany to Central Asia:

Russian pride took a heavy blow. Russia, as the USSR's kingpin, had been a world power -- the Kremlin versus Washington. Remembering the German reaction to losing WW1, American and British leaders tried to minimize the damage to Russian national esteem. Check the record: both the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations tried to include Russia as a diplomatic partner. But the Russian people knew they had lost a long war.

But instead of gratitude and a desire to join the West, we see Russia trying to regain what they've lost, like their former territory in Georgia and Ukraine; and their reputation for power by intervening in Syria.

While some see this Russian hostility as our fault, clinging to the notion that the West was too harsh on Russia after we won the Cold War, the fact is that the lesson of World War I was wrong. The victors of World War I were not too harsh on Germany, we were too easy on them:

The proto-thugs in Moscow actually have the nerve to be upset that joining NATO has become fairly popular amongst the formerly Soviet satellite nations and even parts of the old Soviet Union. Instead of wondering why the tender loving attention of Mother Russia scares the crap out of these people eager to join NATO, the Russians are busy whining and blustering even as their military continues to rot and their economy enjoys a temporary oil-fueled bubble that will leave Russia like any other Third World oil exporter--poorer and unfree. ...

Russia isn't a part of the West because Russia's leaders lately have been a bunch of a-holes. Right now I'm glad we've pushed NATO east as fast as possible. Russia has a lot further to go if it ever rebuilds its military and that alone will deter the Russians. I seriously get an eerie inter-war feel for the whole situation.

You know, the common wisdom is that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Imperial Germany after World War I, which led to the rise of Hitler. When you compare the occupation, dismemberment, and de-Nazification of Germany after 1945 which created a prosperous and democratic allied Germany, you have to conclude that the Allies weren't nearly harsh enough in 1918.

And since 1991, we've treated the Russians with kid gloves, and now they too think they've been betrayed and deny they were really defeated in the Cold War. Now the Russians pretend they were being reasonable and just voluntarily gave up their empire. Of course, occupying Russia and de-Commiefying Moscow was never going to happen. We didn't have much choice at the time since Russia still had lots of working nukes. But the result has been a Russia that increasingly acts like they want to be our enemy.

That judgment was about a week before Russia invaded Georgia, by the way.

Again, the Germany that the victors were allegedly too harsh against after World War I revived to seek revenge while the Germany that the victors divided, de-Nazified, and forcibly made to join the victors--and which remains a democratic ally in the West to this day--worked, when the latter treatment was clearly far more harsh.

The West was far too easy on Russia 25 years ago. Mind you, Russia still had lots of nukes. So we couldn't press our advantage to post-World War II levels of crushing a defeated foe and remolding it in our image.

But the notion that the West was too harsh on Russia after the Cold War as a reason for Russian hostility is nonsense.