A little Dolchstoss from Max Hastings

Yet Russian exceptionalism persists. It remains unlikely that, in the foreseeable future, it will want to join the EU or share its values. For almost half a century, Russia saw everything through the prism of its second world war experience and that of the cold war. Today its people are obsessed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and their perceived loss of status in the world. Far from recognising this as the consequence of political and economic failure, most Russians from Putin downwards blame western malice and domestic traitors succumbing to western intrigues.

Moscow’s behaviour today should be seen not as a reflection of “oil arrogance”, though this plays a part, but of neurosis about its own weakness and failure. The Russians yearn for respect, in the same fashion as any inner-city street kid with a knife. They will become willing to play with the west by western rules only if or when they no longer perceive those rules as disadvantaging themselves. Today they cannot compete on the EU’s terms, still less those of the US, so they make up their own.

… and a little Chamberlain as well.

The Bush administration today talks of gallant little Georgia in 2008 as if it was gallant little Poland in 1939. As so often, it draws the wrong lesson from history. Britain and France had to fight Hitler. But in September 1939 both countries found themselves in the grotesque position of having offered security guarantees to Poland, while being incapable of doing anything practical to frustrate the German invasion.

A little British melancholy from Bruce Anderson:

Dying empires leave dangerous legacies. Rome gave way to darkness. As the Spanish empire declined, so did Spain – and the post-Imperial history of the Spanish colonies hardly vindicated Bolivar’s hopes. Admittedly, the Monroe doctrine ensured that however chaotic it became, Latin America was not a cockpit of super-powerrivalry, until the little matter of the Cuban missile crisis.

Apropos missiles, the most dangerous moments since 1962 have occurred in the former British empire, when India and Pakistan were confronting each other. Although we British pride ourselves on the skilful way in which we dismantled the empire, the sleep of reason in formerly British Africa has already brought forth monsters, with a lot more to come. Even the first British empire was no exception. First, the Americans seized their independence before they learned to play cricket, so that they still regard rounders as a suitable game for grown-up males. Second, the ambivalences about federalism and slavery in the 13 colonies led to a civil war, and have still not been fully resolved.

(Really? Baseball is our immaturity?  It’s notable that it’s these Brits that are putting the problems of projecting power into perspective.)