My 18-year-old grandson was in a quandary.
About to graduate from high school in Washington, D.C., he had to do a final essay that had him stumped: What to do about Russia?
That was the topic, and he said he didn't know anything about Russia.
His father said something along the lines that no one ever knows what to do about Russia. That didn't answer the kid's question -- or solve his essay problem.
I have a suggestion about what to do about Russia: Nothing.
Leave the damn country alone. There's nothing we can do anyway, so treat the country with benign neglect, but don't interfere.
It wasn't always this way. When Russia was the Soviet Union, there was great and legitimate concern about "what to do" about the regime. The USSR was bent on world domination. Its very title indicated this, as did its global actions via the KGB, GRU, the Komintern, and various cultural, sporting, social, and political policies.
The Soviet Union sought to intimidate, undermine, influence, subvert, exploit, deceive, penetrate, and dominate every country it had dealings with -- friendly or otherwise. It was paranoid and paralyzed by its dependence on the secret police.
Ever since Soviet communism collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, and citizens were allowed to voice dissident opinions. Today, there is no need for any country to do anything about Russia.
Old habits die hard, however, and many are still suspicious about Russian intentions.
As one who vehemently viewed the Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire" (President Reagan was dead-on), I'd argue today that the only ones who should worry about Russia are the Russians.
Yes, former Soviet republics (now independent) have valid concerns, but they don't concern us in a way that we have to do something. Russia will solve its own problems in its own way.
It's an extraordinary country of extraordinary people. Russia has more natural resources than any other country -- oil, natural gas, forestry, mining, every form of mineral. At the moment, it's not as developed as, say, the U.S. or other industrial nations.
In the "what to do" category, Russia (or its leaders) have to figure out what to do about Islamic extremism -- Chechnya and the Muslim south. We hear about Muslim terrorism when a Moscow theatre is taken hostage, or a school is held to ransom. What we don't hear about are 1,000 terrorist acts a year that occur in Russia.
When Russia was the Soviet Union, we had to worry about what to do. The left-wing socialist theme in the West was that if we showed goodwill and disarmed, the Soviets would see we were no threat and would let us live in peace (if not security).
We now know (or should know) that this formula played into Soviet hands and if practiced, would have culminated in all of us eventually speaking Russian in our own country.
A wiser faction believed that if you showed resolve, and were neither intimidated nor persuaded into subservience, we could co-exist -- especially with the reality of nuclear parity and the spectre of mutual destruction if war occurred.
It worked -- some 40 years of uneasy Cold War peace.
These days, "What to do about Russia" would be more appropriate if directed at China. It's a question that also bothers Russia, since its longest frontier nudges China.
If we, the outside world, leave Russia to solve its own problems, it will do so and eventually flourish. So there's the answer: Do nothing about Russia, but be ready to help economically and socially when it reaches out to become a genuine ally.
There you are, kid -- the theme for your essay. Now go persuade the State Department.