September 01, 2014

For Better or Worse

For Better or Worse

Every time one thinks that things just can't get any worse on the US-Russian relations front, they do.

In the past decade and a half‘s slow downward spiral there has been the war in Chechnya, the US bombing of Serbia, spy scandals, the ABM Treaty, NATO expansion, the war in Georgia, the failed “reset” button, Edward Snowden, the annexation of Crimea, and now the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, from the outside looking in, Americans see the de-democratization of elections, crackdowns on press freedoms, politically motivated criminal prosecutions, the theft of state assets, and a worrying political homogenization of society.

And from the inside looking out, Russians see NATO encirclement, US and EU meddling in its sphere of influence, American military intervention in Islamic states situated on Russia‘s underbelly, and neighbors who are freeloading off cheap Russian energy.

It is hard not to look at these events and oppositional worldviews and conclude that the situation is hopeless.

Yet it bears remembering that for most of the twentieth century the US and the USSR found a way to coexist (while of course conducting many wars through proxy), despite the fact that each had an ideology that swore the other state would crumble.

It also is worth remembering that for most of the nineteenth century the US and Russia had the best of relations, despite the fact that they had oppositional views on the nature of society and political freedoms, and that their territorial empires were butting up against one another in the Pacific.

When the world is self-inflicting arson, mayhem and banality on itself (which, admittedly, it seems to be doing most of the time), it helps to step back and keep things in perspective.

When Russians and Ukrainians, tied together by centuries of history, are fighting over scraps of territory, when spies are violating one another‘s air and desktop space, when politicians are deciding what people have a right to read, watch and eat, it is good to take a breather. It is good to read about street photographers, to run off into the wilderness in search of wolves, to ruminate on soulful poetry, or to wonder at beautiful animals.

The world gave us the unimaginable tragedy of a downed airliner. We respond by embellishing the cover of our magazine with an unlikely, noble and beautiful giraffe.

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