Challenging Russia to Fight

Speaker of the House John Boehner is second in line for the presidency, after Vice President Biden. That highlights the danger of his recent speech that comes dangerously close to challenging Russia to a fight. Boehner’s web site prefaces the speech by noting, “In remarks at the Heritage Foundation today, Congressman John Boehner (R-West Chester) discussed the need to reassert American exceptionalism in the U.S.-Russia relationship.” Here are the key parts of what he had to say:

Russia has continued to expand its physical, political, and economic presence … under the guise of what’s strangely called a ‘sphere of influence.’ … In Russia’s use of old tools and old thinking, we see nothing short of an attempt to restore Soviet-style power and influence. …

The Administration should resolve this stalemate [over Georgia] in a manner that respects the territorial integrity of Georgia.  Then – and only then – will movement on the WTO question be worth considering. …

Instead of downplaying Russia’s disregard for democratic values and human rights, we should call them on it.  Publicly, forcefully, frequently.  The United States should insist Russia ‘reset’ its own policies.  If those appeals require teeth, the House stands ready to provide them. … As Speaker, my first meeting with a foreign head of state was with the Georgian president.  That was no coincidence. … Let us stand with those who stand up to tyranny and aggression.  Because if America won’t lead the way – who will?

Boehner’s speech misses the following key points:

1. While the American media portrays the Georgian War of 2008 as a case of naked Russian aggression, it has been clearly established that Georgia fired the first shots.

2. We insist on our own “sphere of influence,” as evidence by our policies toward Cuba and Venezuela. While we no longer sponsor assassination attempts of their leaders (as we did to Castro in the 1960’s), we still pressure them and many other nations to support our foreign policies.

3. America is a great nation, but can make mistakes. Assuming American exceptionalism is therefore dangerous, especially when challenging a nation that can destroy us in under an hour. Past mistakes that are now obvious include slavery, lack of women’s suffrage, and Jim Crow. Current mistakes are always harder to see, and therefore require extra introspection, something that a belief in American exceptionalism prevents.

If you agree that risky behavior like that shown in this speech needs to be reined in, make sure you have signed our petition asking Congress to authorize a National Academies study on the risks posed by nuclear weapons. I hope you’ll also encourage friends to do the same. We currently have over 700 signatures, but need as many as we can get.

Thanks very much.

Martin Hellman

PS While Boehner is a Republican, the Democrats have made similar mistakes. The expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, in violation of an earlier promise made to Gorbachev, started under President Clinton, when Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were admitted.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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