Too much focus on Russia’s moral-ethical debate over Chechnya obscures a much more important fact: Russia and the U.S. should be united in the fight against radical Islam.

Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, center, and Russian boxer Dmitry Kudryashov, right, who won a WBA International cruiserweight title fight, watch an IBO cruiserweight title fight. Photo: RIA Novosti

 For a very different take read "How Chechnya is driving a wedge between Russia and the West" 

Eugene Bai’s recent article “How Chechnya is driving a wedge between Russia and the West” is worthy, if not of a place in the textbooks on diplomacy and international relations, then at least in the appendix to them. The article clearly demonstrates the muddle that can ensue when issues of diplomacy (Russia-West relations in this case) are viewed through the prism of morality, ethics, and national and religious values.

The history of diplomacy and the theory of international relations are not short of specialists who consider any discussion of value differences between countries to be of no practical use, capable only of spoiling relations in a bad way. Adepts of this school are known as realists.

These realists are represented among practicing diplomats, including in the United States, such as Charles "Chas" Freeman, a retired ambassador who not only faithfully served his country for decades in the diplomatic arena, but also considerably enriched the theoretical training of U.S. diplomats, editing, among other things, the article on diplomacy in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Understanding the key issues in the debate over Chechnya

But let’s put this sinuous polemic and the place it holds in Mr. Bai’s article aside. First and most importantly, we need to understand its domestic, Russian projection.

The article assures readers that, over the past year, Chechnya has become Russia’s main newsmaker. That is debatable. The reincorporation of Crimea, the civil war in Ukraine, the economic crisis, the worsening clash with the West, the development of relations with China, and the 70th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War all have the right to compete with this Caucasian republic on the news front.

But let’s not quibble, since Mr. Bai’s accent on Chechnya comes from the standpoint of the Russian opposition. For the latter, Chechnya is a long-standing idée fixe. This is mainly due to the fact that the head of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, has assumed a seat on Russia’s political Olympus. A sharp-witted, energetic personality, he is constantly swearing allegiance to Russian President Vladimir Putin and seemingly tone-deaf to internal and external criticism alike.

For the Russian opposition, therefore, the wedding of the century” in Chechnya [ the marriage between 57-year-old local police chief Nazhud Guchigov and 17-year-old Luiza Goylabieva dubbed by Russian media and social networks as “the most scandalous marriage of the century” – Editor's note] is a new cause to discuss Mr. Kadyrov and his republic, especially since criticism of Kadyrov can be used to take a potshot at Putin. The opposition should not be criticized for that, since that is the very nature of opposition: drubbing the existing political order is a sacred right.

Moreover, judging by the reaction to the “wedding of the century, such discussion is needed within the Russian public space. True, the debate has revealed that the Russian opposition needs to elaborate its position.

It is not clear, for instance, what its charges against the Chechen law enforcement officer are exactly. Russian law allows marriage at the age of seventeen, while polygamy, although not permitted under the Family Code, has not been a crime since Soviet times.

Be that as it may, it bears repeating that this discussion is a legitimate part of the Russian public space, while Mr. Bai’s global conclusions about Russian-U.S. relations on the basis thereof are something else entirely. In order to better evaluate these conclusions, we will analyze the steps taken by the author in arriving at them.

Chechnya is a phantom wedge

At this point it becomes interesting: Almost every reproach that Bai draws against Russia in the comparison with the West is double-edged, and equally applicable to the latter.

Britain is actively debating how to reconcile Sharia and British law. Hugh Hefner (Hugh Marston Hefner is an American adult magazine publisher – Editor’s note.) shows that not only is the age gap not a problem, but that it can be far wider than the one in the “wedding of the century.” The practice of polygamy, legal in some parts of the United States, could come before the Supreme Court, and if the latter decides in favor of the plaintiffs’ right to create a family consisting of one man and several women, polygamy could become legal across the whole country.

In general, critics of the “wedding of the century” are recommended to look at the United States for new targets. In New Hampshire, girls as young as 13 can marry with parental consent, while in other states, the limit is 15. And the popularity of the reality TV show “16 and Pregnant” is food for thought. In this case, television is merely reflecting the realities of American life: According to the latest stats, in 2013 more than 273,000 children were born to mothers aged between 15 and 19, 89 percent of whom were unmarried at the time of birth.

There is no observable lack in the United States of religious rigor, which at times borders on plain obscurantism. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the Jewish “morality police” perform the role of clothing cops and enforces modesty, while elsewhere, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is under attack. Moreover, some religious schools that teach divine creation instead of evolution get taxpayers’ money.

To wrap up this brief review of aspects of American life that do not quite fit into the fabric of Mr. Bai’s article, one could challenge his closing thesis that Americans know how to overcome social conflicts and eliminate stereotypes. They do, but not always. Suffice it to recall the numerous debates about race relations in the United States in recent years. The problems are not limited to race.

Bai credits America for seeking solutions in court. But just recall the case Roe v. Wade, which culminated in a 1973 Supreme Court ruling to legalize abortion. Forty years on, the problem of abortion in the United States today provokes more discord than on the eve of the Supreme Court’s verdict. The public passions were not slaked...

Bai can also be challenged on his assertion that no one in the United States today wants to legally restrict abortion. Not only is there no shortage of people who do, but also there are numerous legislative restrictions, with  many ones are expected to passed. A total ban is a long way off, but the fight is not dying down. It should be noted that proponents of same-sex marriage in the United States also object to its legalization being used to legitimate polygamy. It turns out that the Unites States is home to advocates of same-sex marriage who oppose polygamy.

Russia and America: Is there really a values gap?

With careful consideration, then, Bai’s examples supposedly illustrating Russia’s backwardness and value differences vis-à-vis the United States can just as well point to the similarities in the moral and ethical debates in the two countries. Or, to put it another way, drawing these debates — essential as they are to the national life of both countries — into an analysis of Russian-U.S. relations can result in a muddle. One would do well to recall the thesis of the realists: Values pertain to a country’s inner life, while relations between countries are founded upon interests.

Through this approach it becomes crystal clear that for both Russia and the West, in particular the United States, and essentially the entire global community, that Islamic State is the enemy. Note that the leaders of Islamic State and allied terror groups are apparently unaware of the rising influence of Ramzan Kadyrov and the alleged Islamization of Russia, as Bai argues, and continue to threaten both the Chechen leadership and Russia with war.

Hence, the main lesson to be drawn from Mr. Bai’s article is that internal ethical debates should not be conflated with matters of international security. If foreign policy were ever to be guided by notions of values, there really would be a mix-up.

Incidentally, the United States has provided many examples of such confusion in recent years. For instance, during the uprising in Egypt, the Obama administration could not decide what was more important: its declared values ​​of democracy or a friendly Egypt led by a strong president. It ultimately settled on the latter, and today Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, sits on death row.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.