During the recent presidential sojourn in Eastern Europe, President Biden made a rather puzzling demand for regime change in Russia in response to the brutal war they are currently waging against Ukraine. At the time, this seemed like a grave misstatement from the President that endangered the relations and safety of the American people and was treated as such by the White House advisors notably Secretary of State Antony Blinken. However, some prominent hawkish political figures and strategists like Lindsay Graham and David Rothkopf used the opportunity of support for such a policy by the most powerful man in the world as a launching pad for its proliferation into the minds of the American public.
Before we delve into how our “leaders” came to such an idea, it is necessary that we understand how dangerous regime change in Russia would be. This is not to say that Vladimir Putin and the recent actions of his government are not evil and execrable, but rather that such horrors should not lead us into shortsighted and destructive decision making. Instead, such grave and decisive circumstances inherently call for prudent and logical thinking with the interests of the American people in mind. Which in this case, certainly would not look like weakening our already strained relationships with Russia by trying to create a power vacuum in the country with the largest supply of nuclear warheads in the entire world. Trying to put such a state on the same pathway the United States pursued in countries like Libya and Iraq, the former of which has become a mecca for slavery, human trafficking, and terrorism since our intervention, is wrong and very likely deadly. Such countries prior had somewhat similar problems with leadership as Russia does currently, but as we can see from the irrefutable evidence of history, inserting ourselves into such situations to bring about political instability continually produces even greater harm than existed in the first place.
With the clear problems of this position of regime change in Russia loosely outlined, the next question we must ask is, how do our so-called experts and representatives come to put out such a risky strategy that cuts against the interests of the American people for peace, safety, and stability. One common answer is greed, as continued death and destruction consistently benefit those with financial interests related to war and its surrounding industries. While this is certainly possible, it is far too cynical and simplistic for my liking. What I would say is more likely at least for most supporters of regime change in Russia is that they truly believe that anything is more desirable than having Vladimir Putin in power. This primarily results from ignorance of the terrible results of regime change we have continuously seen in the past and more importantly from an inability to understand Vladimir Putin, as evidenced by similar talking heads labeling him insane and irrational for the many earlier weeks of the war in Ukraine. It follows that if you cannot understand someone you will fear them irrationally and desire nearly anything other than their presence. The confusion Vladimir Putin causes for the ruling class is built on their belief that their neoliberal worldview is the only logical conclusion one could possibly reach. This is coupled with an inability to understand how to properly assess rationality in the uncontrolled state of international politics and leads to their illogical prescriptions for dealing with the problem at hand. I will not take the time to dismantle the understanding that the worldview of our ruling class is the outcome of rational thought, despite the many examples proving otherwise.
We can see relatively quickly how inserting such beliefs into our understanding of foreign affairs is misguided and ultimately produces the harmful policy positions that take up so much of the conversation around this war. Rationality in this context must not be viewed through a moral lens, as there is no way to enact our morality within the anarchic state of world politics, but rather as logically working towards your end goals, which in this case for Putin is expanding the influence of Russia. With this understanding, we would be able to calmly assess Putin as an evil but logical actor and not just an enigmatic Bond-type villain. Such an understanding would keep us away from dangerous notions of regime change as well as weak positions like the offering of a “minor incursion” into the eastern region of Ukraine.
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Cooper is an assistant editor of the common ground section and a sophomore. He studies political science and classics and wants to work in journalism after school. When he is not thinking about politics and writing he enjoys fishing, golfing, and reading. Cooper’s literary influences include Ring Lardner and Ernest Hemingway.