December 4, 2002

Putin wants a new Russian empire? Let him have Iraq

Uh-Oh …. Don't look now, but last week President Vladimir Putin had the bright idea of bringing back the five-pointed red star as the insignia of the Russian military. It all begins to make sense if we note the Russian government's crackdown on … Barbie! The Guardian is on the story:

"The Russian Ministry of Education has included Barbie along with a list of other toys and games, such as Pokémon, that face a ban because of the supposedly harmful effects they have on the minds of young children. Barbie, in particular, is under fire because the doll is thought to awaken sexual impulses in the minds of the very young, and encourage consumerism among Russian infants."

The Russian economy could do with a little "consumerism," the problem being that there still isn't much to consume. Of course I don't suppose they've banned J. C. Penney's "Forward Command Post," a model of what looks to be an ordinary American-style middle class home with the roof blown off and the walls pockmarked with bullet holes. It's a bizarre post-9/11 twist on what looks like Barbie's dollhouse, that comes with action figures – but no corpses. At $44.95, this ghoulish construction, besides being far too expensive for the average Russian family to afford, couldn't possibly have any ill effects on those little Russkie tykes – not when they're weaning them to wage genocidal wars, like the one in Chechnya. As the Guardian reports:

"The move will be seen as part of the Kremlin's attempts to control the sense of identity of young Russians. Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to foster ideals of family and patriotism alongside the belief that Russia was, and can be again, a great imperial power."

An imperial power that is slowly imploding in on itself, demographically as well as economically? Not too likely. Forget those dreams of past glory, Vladimir, and start handing out Viagra as generously as your predecessors once ladled out the vodka.

Speaking of being stoned out of one's mind, a recent article in Pravda, reprinted in WorldNetDaily, claims that the Russians may be planning their own coup attempt in Iraq in order to prevent the Americans from grabbing all the oil contracts:

"What if Russia were to deploy troops to Baghdad in its own coup attempt? In the words of a Pravda analyst, 'This no longer seems to be the idea of a lunatic. … It could provoke a crisis that the CIA and the U.S. State Department analysts did not even think of. Then, it will be the time for a different kind of world order, taking into consideration everybody's interests.'"

The Russians want to take Iraq, when they can't even hold on to Chechnya? I say go for it. Better them, than us.

Let them spend $9 billion a month to subdue, police, and hold the country together: let them take the casualties, and bear the burden of empire. They can pay the political costs, too, including the degeneration of their own precarious democracy into a full-fledged neo-totalitarian state.

In any case, the Russians needn't go out of their way to cut us off at the Iraqi pass, because it looks like the invasion that once seemed "inevitable," according to the conventional wisdom, has been called off, at least for the time being. And us peaceniks have none other than uber-hawk Paul Wolfowitz to thank for the good news. In a speech to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Wolfowitz laid out the new administration line on Iraq:

"President Bush is making every effort to bring about the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction without the use of force."

The Bushies have come a long way since the days when the only goal they would recognize or acknowledge was "regime change." Naturally this concession was quickly followed by an admonition to hope for peace but prepare for war:

"Our only hope ... of achieving the peaceful outcome is if we can confront the Iraqi regime with a credible threat of force behind our diplomacy."

Give us the power to strike, the U.S. is saying to its erstwhile European allies, because we won't necessarily use it. Trust us.

Coming from Wolfowitz, the author of an infamous memorandum on why the U.S. must pursue a policy of hegemony on every continent, this is good for a guffaw, or perhaps just a light chuckle, but there is a note of sincerity here, too. What is striking is the admission that a unilateral attack by the U.S. would lack credibility, and this is certainly correct – which is what critics of the war have been saying all along.

All the hype about the "hyperpower" to the contrary notwithstanding, which the French have scared themselves into believing, the myth of American omnipotence is a delusion shared by American neo-imperialists and America-haters alike. We simply do not have the capacity to fight a successful war of conquest in the Middle East and maintain an American military presence for any length of time. Why else is the Pentagon balking – because they're a bunch of hand-holding pacifists?

Defeating a sixth-rate military power may not prove much of a problem, but defeating our creditors as they demand repayment of the loans that made the war possible – plus interest – will require more than "smart bombs." The smart course of action, now being pursued by the administration, is to pursue the war option on the cheap, by getting the Europeans to bear some of the financial burden. Give us money, and let us have our way: not a very convincing argument, and one that is unlikely to carry the day.

The U.S., having chosen to go the inspections route, must follow that road wherever it leads. There will naturally be many attempts to divert or otherwise derail the new policy of conditional war, in which the conditions are set by the Europeans and, ultimately, Iraq's fate is decided by the Iraqis. We have already seen how quickly the smear campaign against the weapons inspectors went full throttle, with the story of Jack McGeorge and his exotic sex life making headlines. Andrew Sullivan, always quick to complain of the least perceived slight to gays, is so far silent on the "outing" of brother McGeorge, a self-described "pan-sexual." Maybe he'll regain his voice when Hans Blix is accused of being a closet Saddamite.

What's interesting to watch is how quickly our neoconservative war birds turn on the President when they realize he has no plan to take Baghdad any time soon. Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, writing in the Weekly Standard, opine that he has fallen into "the UN trap," and aver that "the further we stumble down this road, the greater the danger that the clarity of our vision – which the president has worked so hard to establish – may become hopelessly clouded."

They qualify this with the assumption that the President doesn't really mean it:

"That is the case for pessimism. But there is also a case for optimism. It rests entirely on President Bush himself. We find it inconceivable that the president intends to end his first term with Saddam Hussein still in power."

Long before winter gives way to spring, and the UN inspectors are still combing through the rubble of Iraq, not finding anything resembling "weapons of mass destruction," the neocons will be singing a different tune. Already, over at National Review, editor Rich Lowry is giving the Democrats campaign advice:

"I really hope the Democrats don't go way left on the war. It would be bad for them, and bad for the country. It's extremely important for Bush to have good criticism – even if it's driven by bad motives. For instance, we probably wouldn't have a 9/11 commission without the Democrats agitating for one. Good for them. A few Democrats like Chuck Schumer are criticizing the administration for not owning up to the problem we have with the Saudis. Go Chuck! Finally, was John Kerrey's criticism of the administration's reliance on proxies at Tora Bora after-the-fact? Yes. Was it opportunistic. Yes. Was it right? Absolutely. Now, if the Dems would just develop some coherent structure for thinking about national-security that these pot-shots could be folded into, we'd really be in business…."

These guys are "in business," alright – strictly for themselves. The neocons care about one thing and one thing only: they'll defer tax cuts and deregulation unto eternity, but to delay a war is unforgivable; and as for calling it off – don't even go there!

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.