The idea that we must include Russia in any redrawing of national boundaries derives from two dubious assumptions, in my opinion.
First, it smacks of a “great powers” approach to global management, which reached its zenith just after the Second World War (UN Security Council and Bretton Woods), and which since then has been shown to be a poor mechanism for global peace and security. Seldom has the UN Security Council cooperated effectively to prevent or to end a war in some part of the world; and when it does, such as when they condemned Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait prior to Desert Storm, it is because of the diplomatic leadership of the world’s superpower. Take USA leadership out of the equation and the UN Security Council is a paper tiger. Still, the dream persists that global management, such as the action of redrawing national boundaries, somehow will work better – not because the USA maintains its leadership position on such matters, but because the “Big Five” sign off on the plan.
Secondly, it suggests that if Russia plays a role in redrawing the boundaries, then they will be more inclined in the long term to respect those new boundaries. For that to happen, though, Russia needs to believe that it participated out of its own free will and not because of coercion by the West. Nevertheless, if that is the case, then Russia most likely will work to undermine the redrawing effort. The reason is that perpetuating the dysfunction in the region is a very effective way of draining the resolve and the dollars of the West, thus freeing up Russia to reestablish the old CCCP one Central Asian and Baltic nation at a time.
I agree with Richard Sutter and Donald Trump that the USA must abandon its unilateral “world’s policeman” role, if it is going to preserve any semblance of its republican roots. That does not mean isolationism in a strict sense. What it does mean is replacing neocon idealism with the kind of realpolitik that sees the USA and Russia working together to destroy ISIS and to preserve despotic, secular regimes (i.e. Syria’s Assad) that are natural enemies of the Jihadists.
Nevertheless, I also acknowledge that this realpolitik approach means that, as a practical effect of no longer alone shouldering the burden of policing the world, we shall be forced to accept the dubious assumptions previously stated, thus giving Russia more of a seat at the table than is ideal. Stated another way, I welcome a partial retreat from our unilateral superpower status, because I do not want to lose our Republic altogether; and yet I also know that world peace and security will suffer as a consequence. I do not believe that we have an imperative to keep the Russians and others at bay in the Middle East.
What I do believe is that our own imperative is now, as it has been from our origins, encapsulated in a favorite John Adams quotation: “Independence Forever!” Everything else is optional and contingent upon our national and economic security needs at the moment.
With respect to Russian influence in the Middle East, I believe that while we should step back from our hegemonic, global police role, at least with respect to a portion of the world simply not amenable to our values or even much of our trade, we should also acknowledge that the result will be a stronger Russian position in that region. Russia will be a player regardless. My point is that if we did persist in our post-war, global police role, we would be better able to challenge their influence there. Nevertheless, in my estimation, the benefit of so doing is outweighed ultimately by the cost to the republican character of our nation.
The reason is that restraining Russian influence in their own backyard, and trying to herd “Arab cats” more in less in the direction we would want, is a full-time foreign policy objective requiring a long-term commitment measured not in years but in decades. This is not a case of winning a war and going home. This is more akin to establishing a colony within a hostile region and indefinitely keeping down the insurgents. I am reminded of our ill-fated colony within the Philippines: permanent insurgency (albeit at times of a fairly low-grade capacity on the part of the insurgents) that is recognized over time to be more of a drain than a benefit.
I am not advocating retreat altogether. Though I embrace “America First” in most of its connotations, I am more of an internationalist than that phrase historically allows. I suppose that puts me in that middle ground, realpolitik position, which seems to be a target of derision .
To the extent that we are going to continue to exercise preeminent diplomatic and military power, I would argue for an Asian-focused policy instead of a European focused one. This is the one foreign policy decision that the Obama team got right, in my estimation. The reasons are as follows:
1.) Increasingly, Asia will be the center of economic and political power in the world, second only to the economic and political might of the NAFTA nations
2.) China will be more belligerent, as its leaders feel that that is necessary to sustain their tenuous grip on power
3.) North Korea will be more belligerent, as its leader feels that that is necessary to sustain his tenuous grip on power
4.) Japan’s long term “economic winter” means that Japan will not be in any position seriously to counterbalance the Red Chinese without active USA involvement
Continental Europe is in a slow and steady decline unless they embrace the kind of militant fascism that may turn out to be necessary to rid their continent not only of Muslim cancer but also of the socialist secularists. The UK will be able to avoid much of this because of their timely “Brexit.”
Africa has been and will remain a lost cause. There is incredible wealth there, and many nations have adopted more Western-oriented governments. Nevertheless, tribalism is embedded too deeply in the African psyche; and too much of the continent has been or will be conquered by Muslims intent on retreating from the modern world. South Africa could be an exception to the rule, but only if the Afrikaners separate and create a new nation of their own. Mandela’s South Africa, on the other hand, is a disaster when compared to what the nation had been under the old regime.
As for South America, rampant socialism and corruption have drained too many of these nations of their promise. In my estimation, these nations will continue to be a sideshow, except with respect to international football (soccer).
That pretty much leaves Asia and the NAFTA countries. The TPP is the first step in merging the two. I can see much value in the TPP, except that the TPP gives future American Presidents too much leeway to undermine our federal immigration laws to the benefit of multi-national corporations having no particular loyalty to our nation. I favor more collaboration between Asia and the NAFTA countries, but I also want to be more careful about preserving our own national sovereignty than I believe is possible under the TPP. This is a balancing act that is not really possible without first reforming our own political system and electing more political leaders who will be more responsive to the needs of our own citizens. In other words, I shall be more open to the TPP once we have put restraints on the Washington-Wall Street Axis, and that in turn demands more, not less, upheaval in our own political system.
Russia will be an actor in our foreign policy objectives. Sometimes, they will be temporary allies. More often, I suspect that they will be intransigent enemies. As you say, Russia will be a major player in the Middle East, regardless of what we may do; and if we pivot to Asia, as I hope, then they will be a bigger player than they are now. There will never be a “solution” to the Russian problem, as evidenced by the fact that they have continued to be a burden even after the dramatic defeat of the CCCP.