America is not innocent. But it is exceptional.

None of this makes the American government like Russia’s, of course. America’s government does not kill journalists and political opponents. It doesn’t intervene dramatically in the internal politics of its near neighbors. Why? Partly because America’s existing security means it does not have to fear journalists or Canadians undermining our society, tipping us into chaos or disorder.

Now, imagine if we were located in a neighborhood surrounded by pre-WWII Japan, Germany, China, and Turkey. Our people would put up with — or even admire — a much more brutal government than the one we have. Human nature is a constant in America and Russia. But history, culture, geography, and the arrangement of power shape us in profoundly different ways.

You could argue that America’s experience of its own liberty really does make it the well-wisher of others. Americans should be happy to point out that this country’s post-war investments, financial and ideological, in Western Europe and the NATO alliance were considerably kinder to Western Europeans than anything attempted by Moscow in its Eastern bloc or in the German Democratic Republic. At bottom, the calculation for America was just as much driven by security as was the Russians’. But our security interests really did redound to the benefit of the fallen Western European powers after World War II.