There are two “duelling visions” of how the West should handle Russia, says Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal, and they’ve been neatly articulated by a pair of “notable nonagenarians” this week at Davos. Veteran investor George Soros, 91, sees global politics as a “struggle between democracy and totalitarianism”. Democracies are duty-bound to treat their citizens with respect and conduct themselves abroad “under the restraints of international law”. Foreign policy grandee Henry Kissinger, 99, takes the less ideological, more pragmatic view that there will always be “many types of government” in the world, and that America’s job is simply to “create and defend a balance of power”.
The lesson of the 20th century is that “neither approach yields an infallible guide to success”. History has not been kind to the French and British leaders who made “Kissingerian arguments” to try and appease Hitler. Then again, George W Bush’s “Sorosian” invasion of Iraq is not fondly remembered either. As Kissinger and Soros would no doubt agree, rigidly applying any theory of history to the “messy realities of international life” is a good way to get into trouble. Besides, we don’t even really know what Vladimir Putin wants. When Churchill was asked about postwar planning in 1942, he advised anyone involved not to overlook the Mrs Glasse’s Cookery Book recipe for jugged hare: “First catch your hare.” When it comes to Russia, “our hare is not caught”.