Archive for August 12th, 2008

Russian attack in Georgia and how it will impact US reputation abroad

August 12, 2008

I have been absolutely sickened by the Russian invasion of Georgia. For one thing I am reading David McCullough’s masterful biography of Truman and it is eerily reminiscent of the early days of the Cold War where the US was faced with almost unbearable choices. Second, we have clients in Tblisi–a reminder that our global village has gotten much smaller and what affects the far corners of the earth has unprecedented impacts locally.

I try to refrain from political comment but bear with me a moment so I can make my point. This appears to me to be an effort by Prime Minister/President Putin to begin to rebuild and re-establish the Soviet Union. The KGB instincts he was trained with clearly never left him. That is what truly frightens and sickens me as I watch the headlines unfold and the absolute helplessness of the US and Europe to do much to stop him destroy democracy and turn his formerly independent neighbors into wimpering lackeys. It is truly tragic and depressing for the future.

But, here is the bright spot. I have long suggested that the US’s very serious reputation problems abroad go much deeper than our current president’s failings in policy and personality. Fundamentally the problem is a totally predictable symptom of the monopoly complex. We all hate monopolies–and particularly when they do not walk humbly with their power. When a town only has one newspaper or a neighborhood one grocery story, they had better be very careful to avoid the perception that they are abusing their monopoly power. Microsoft found this in spades when they were the superpower of the computer industry. But, once Google emerged as a potentially formidable competitor, Microsoft lost its power position and the extreme negative that went with it. Now they are one of the most respected brands in the world.

Since 1989 the US has stood alone as the world’s only superpower. France, of course, has done its best to provide some counter and to get all of Europe lined up to provide some kind of competition. Only China has demonstrated any potential for creating real competition in the superpower game. Until now. Now Putin has brought back memories of the Soviet Union, its callous disregard for human life, its bullying tactics, its dishonesty and dissimulation, its bald-faced ambition for domination. The US has been accused of all of these things–some of them far too accurately for my taste. But stack up the two superpowers in a popularity contest around the world and I’m willing to bet the US walks off with the prize.

Let’s be clear. I don’t want there to be a competition for world power. I absolutely dread the thought of another Cold War–or medium or hot one. But do not fool yourself into thinking that a change of administration will solve our reputation problems abroad. At least not anywhere near as much as a bullying Russia will.