Russia

I visited Russia a few years ago when I spoke at the Russian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists annual meeting. Russians are a proud people and they have much to be proud about. The picture accompanying this article is of the monument to the Russian space program; the monument is located outside the space museum in Moscow. Russians are justifiably proud of a program that launched the first probes to the moon and implemented the first long-term human experiences in space stations.

A Moscow subway station is quite unique. The stations were created during the Soviet era, and the walls are clad in marble so that everyday workers can experience beauty. While standing in those subway stations watching the people, I could feel their inner toughness. These are the people that cope with the Russian winter every year. These are the descendants of the families who refused to let Nazi Germany beat them even though millions of Russians died of conflict and starvation. Yes, Russians are tough people. Interestingly, their ballet talent is jaw dropping excellent and their food is delicious—good stick-to-your-ribs meat and potatoes type of fare.

My experience in Russia taught me of the need to separate a people from their government. I can respect the Russian people while professing loudly that their government is no friend of America.

Late last week, 12 Russian military officers were indicted for interference in the U.S. 2016 election. Now, of course, people are innocent until proven guilty, but this is one data point in a string of data points linking the Russian government to manipulation of our election. And, let’s also be clear that no American has been accused of collusion at this time. This discussion is about appropriate U.S. response to the Russian government.

So let’s remember, the Russian government has been linked to an attack in Britain via a nerve agent (one death so far, multiple injuries), the invasion of Crimea, the destabilization of the Ukrainian nation, and the disruption of multiple elections, including our own. I think it is fair to say that the Russian government is bullying other countries.

Now speaking personally, by the sixth grade I had learned what was needed to end bullying behavior. Of course, things are different now, but back then if a bully punched you in the nose, you had better consider punching the bully in the nose. This is called proportional response—a measured, well thought out equivalent response so the bully knows that there will be consequences to continued bullying behavior. Proportional means that the response is about the same as the provocation. There is no need to escalate the situation since the bully will likely learn the lesson from the proportional response. Of course, back in the schoolyard of old, if you didn’t punch the bully in the nose, next he would take your lunch money, and after that he might ride off on your bicycle.

I am very concerned that so many of our Congressional leaders, including the incumbent congressman from TN 01, have failed to encourage the President to stand up to Vladimir Putin. The U.S. Constitution makes Congress an equal partner with the President, and it is Congress’s job to work with the President and ensure the safety of our nation. Instead of confronting the Russian government about it’s efforts to disrupt our election, leadership, including our Congressman, is trying to pretend nothing happened or even call legitimate inquires “a witch hunt.” This is unacceptable. Fortunately, some reasonable thoughts are occurring to some leaders. It is not often that I agree with Speaker Paul Ryan, but even he today said, “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”

The example I gave above incorporated my memories of schoolyard bullying. No, I don’t advocate punching anyone in the nose, and I recognize that schoolyard bullying can be a severe problem for some children who may develop long-term severe psychologic problems. For other children of my era, however, learning was provoked and coping skills were gained. It is troubling to see national leaders who are unable to grasp concepts that should have been learned in grade school. A bully must be confronted, or the bullying will intensify.

Our country is based on free and fair elections, and we must not tolerate an attack on our elections. We can design a proportional response that respects the Russian people while holding their government responsible. If we fail to do so, the next act of bullying may be even worse.