Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's reaction to evidence of vote fraud in Russia's parliamentary elections of last December 4th hammered one more nail in the coffin of President Barack Obama's reset of relations with Moscow.
If President Obama had stuck to his guns on the reset, he would have justified in dramatic fashion his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize - deemed premature by many -and entered the 2012 presidential campaign able to argue plausibly that he was one of America's great foreign policy presidents.
He was poised to complete the work, started by Reagan and Gorbachev, of bringing about a definitive settlement of the Cold War -- and, indeed, of the European civil war that broke out in 1914 -- by forging a new pan-European entente from Lisbon to Vladivostok and including North America.
But the bipartisan US foreign policy elite had other ideas. Why settle for entente when there is a world to be won? They want nothing less than global strategic dominance, or benevolent global hegemony, or empire, or whatever you choose to call it.
And so Mrs. Clinton brands the elections "neither free nor fair." She insists on investigations into all allegations of fraud, and will brook no contradiction. Channeling Woodrow Wilson, she champions the right of Russians to have "their voices heard and their votes counted."
But there is another possible narrative: On December 4th, despite clear evidence of electoral shenanigans, the final result as reported by the Russian Central Election Commission conformed broadly to the actual vote as evidenced by exit and pre-election polls.
For the first time in Russian history, a ruling party was rebuked at the polls, effectively losing the election. According to experts, ballot stuffing and other forms of skullduggery cannot have skewed the results by more than 5%.
When it takes office, the new State Duma will approximate to the real shape of public opinion. No longer enjoying an absolute majority, United Russia will forge a coalition with other parties, and the Duma will become a venue for the kind of give-and-take and political horse-trading that parliaments are meant to be.
Washington's Russia policy is badly out of whack. It is rooted in a plethora of false narratives about the meaning of Russian developments, some of which stem from ignorance, some from a desire to give moral justification to its single-minded quest for global dominance.
These include: Russia is a defeated power (it is not); Yeltsin fomented democracy (he did the opposite), while Putin seeks to restore Soviet great power status (he seeks nothing of the kind; his aims are confined to stability on Russia's borders so as to develop internally); what Washington says and does is important to Russians (it is not.)
If you have no intention of talking seriously to Russia, of offering it strategic partnership, to say nothing of friendship, because all you really want is to absorb it into your globe-girdling hive of compliant states, then there is no need to get any of this right.
But in view of America’s declining economic fortunes (total US indebtedness is as large as its Gross Domestic Product; its military and foreign budget of some $1 trillion per year is as large as its yearly federal budget deficit,) the US may be approaching a time when it has to start getting reality right.
America’s elite may have to ditch their grandiose ambitions for global hegemony sooner than they think, so now is a good time as any to get it right about Russia and its enduring strategic importance.
Agonizing reappraisal needed
Dr. Stephen F. Cohen of New York University, one of America's foremost Russia experts, describes Russia's strategic significance in concise fashion:
"Russia still possesses devices of mass destruction capable of destroying the Western power and tempting international terrorists for years to come.
"Russia...remains the world's largest territorial country, a crucial Eurasian frontline state in the conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations, with a vastly disproportionate share of the planet's essential resources, including oil, natural gas, iron ore, nickel, gold, timber, fertile land and fresh water.
"Moscow's military and diplomatic reach can still thwart or abet vital US interests around the globe from Afghanistan, Iran, China and North Korea to Europe and Latin America."
Dr. Cohen correctly points out that in the absence of an expansive, cooperative relationship with Russia, there can be no real US and pan-European security.
To this end, the policy of the next US administration, whether Republican or Democratic, should call on Moscow to reaffirm the sovereignty of all former satellites and Soviet republics. At the same time, it should insist that NATO halt further expansion eastward, and desist from basing military forces, including missile systems, anywhere east of Germany.
Thus, the newest NATO members in central and eastern Europe would have the benefit of Article 5 protection while post-Soviet Russia would achieve stability on its borders, thus allowing it to develop internally and repair the damage of 70 years of Marxist-Leninist misrule.
The path would then be open to a strategic partnership with Moscow - much needed if pan-Europe is to meet the strategic challenges posed by a rising East Asia and resurgent Islamic extremism.
In addition, the US should scrap any notion of deploying missile defenses in Europe pointing towards Russia, and instead opt for a joint US.-Russian system designed to defend against threats from rogue states - if indeed it proceeds with missile defense at all.
The next administration should conduct an agonizing reappraisal of American foreign policy with a view to pan-European solidarity rather that a global hegemony we do not need and cannot afford. We should have conducted such a review in the immediate wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but never did. We must make up for lost time. The time to act is now.
Anthony T. Salvia, a consultant in international public advocacy and governmental affairs, served as Special Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Reagan Administration