So, you thought the cold war was over, eh? Not so fast. Suddenly, the specter of Russian spies is haunting Washington, with the revelation that a Russian "bug" was planted in a State Department conference room, and a Russian attaché expelled because he was caught monitoring the bug from a parked car near the building. The bug, buried quite professionally in the wall paneling, was almost certainly an inside job, executed at leisure and with great care. The Russian spy scare is now going full blast, with hundreds of State Department employees being questioned. Yeltsin is threatening us with nuclear weapons, and has just signed a military and political pact with China, Russia's early Soviet era ally. It almost seems like 1960 all over again. We'll know the culture of the cold war has made a comeback when Nick at Night starts running old episodes of that old cartoon featuring Boris Badanov, the "nogoodnick" Russian spy, and his slinky female companion, Natasha.
Of course, we are assured by US officials, the sudden explosion of this case onto the front pages had nothing to do with the expulsion of US spy Cheri Leberknight, who was caught red-handed accepting a package containing Russian top secret documents on November 30. The 33-year-old American Mata Hari was reportedly also caught with a veritable arsenal of spy paraphernalia worthy of a James Bond film, including invisible ink. Her arrest was announced shortly after the story of the alleged treason of 18-year Navy veteran Daniel King hit the newswire and this has got to be the weirdest one of them all. . . .
Laconic news reports inform us that King, 40, was not a mole, or a dedicated ideologue, and that his was "a one time offense." He supposedly first came under suspicion as a result of a routine polygraph test, whereupon he suddenly confessed to mailing a computer disk containing "information on the use of US submarines to eavesdrop on Russian undersea communications cables" to the Russian Embassy in Washington. Gee, what could have possibly motivated a career officer with no ideological axe to grind and no other apparent motive to suddenly start sending unsolicited secrets to the Russians other than an attack of conscience? Inquiring minds want to know.
And of course there is the Wen Ho Lee case, now back in the public spotlight after he was finally charged with downloading US secrets from a secure server but not espionage. Lee could get life in prison. But of course the move against Lee had nothing whatsoever to do with the sentencing of Hua Di, a Chinese-born immigrant to the US affiliated with Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, to fifteen years in prison on charges of divulging state secrets. Hua, 63, had served in the top leadership of the military-security apparatus, the Central Commission on Military Science, but defected to the US in 1989; of particular interest to the Chinese authorities was an essay, written under the auspices of the Center for International Security, detailing China's missile capabilities a crime far worse than any Lee is accused of committing, and one documented by far more substantial evidence.
In each of the above-mentioned cases, it is clear that the intelligence agencies of China, Russia, and the US had ample knowledge of spy networks within their own borders: the FBI noticed the Russian attaché, who for some reason insisted on parking in the same spot with clocklike regularity, and had been watching him for months. Cheri Leberknight, a second secretary at the US Embassy in Moscow, was also no doubt under prolonged surveillance: she was, after all, caught in the act, in what looks like a set-up. The Wen Ho Lee case and the arrest of Hua DI have a similar discretionary air; the FBI has been threatening, harassing, and all but accusing Lee of high treason for what seems like years. Why did they choose this moment to act? The Chinese government, for its part, had previously pledged not to arrest Hua if he returned. Why the sudden switch?
In each case and every country the answer is: domestic politics. Under attack from Republicans who claim that a wholesale transfer of US military secrets to China has occurred under Clinton's watch, the administration is moving to buttress its defenses on this front in preparation for the 2000 presidential election. With the Hate China crowd in the GOP howling for Wen Ho Lee's blood, the administration hopes to defang accusations of having sold out American national security and being "soft" on Beijing by launching their own show trial. Having convicted Lee in the media long before any charges were filed, they didn't have a whole lot of trouble getting an indictment.
In China, the trial of Hua DI takes place in the context of the evolving Sino-Russian alliance, and the attempt by China's current helmsman to leave a legacy rivaling those of Mao and Deng Xiaoping. As Willy Wo Lap points out in the South China Morning Post, Jiang considers his great contribution to be in the realm of foreign policy. While Mao is revered as the Founder, and Deng is extolled as the Great Modernizer, Jiang sees himself as leaving behind a legacy of "great power diplomacy," in that China was able to assert itself on the world stage.
He will do this by reversing the Maoist dictum that turned Communist dogma on its head, the famous "Theory of the Three Worlds." As enunciated by Mao, this theory held that the Soviet Union was "the main danger to the world's peoples," while US imperialism was relegated to the role of a secondary villainy. But the times, they are a changin'. "Soviet social imperialism," the "main danger" of Mao's day, is no more. Instead there is the crippled giant to the north coming hat in hand to Beijing a reversal of fortune that permits a reversal of longstanding policy.
Coinciding with the scheduled publication of Chairman Jiang's Collected Works, his bid to be engraved on the Chinese Mount Rushmore reached a dramatic climax at the Yeltsin-Jiang summit, where the Sino-Russian alliance was formalized. In a joint communiqué, the two powers declared that "no country can interfere in another sovereign country's attacks against domestic terrorism," denounced NATO's conquest of Kosovo, and pledged mutual support against incursions by the West. The sealing of this pact caps Jiang's career, and gives credence to his ambition: he will go down in the annals of the Chinese Communist Party as having rid China of the last vestiges of orthodox Maoism. Deng Xiaoping did this in the realm of economics, by rolling back centralized economic authority and declaring "To get rich is glorious!" Jiang's claim to fame will be that he reversed the verdict on the Russians and charted a new foreign policy course for China, one more conducive to her national interests.
Yeltsin may be ailing physically, but his flair for the dramatic is undiminished, and perhaps even enhanced: at the summit he pointedly reminded President Clinton that Russia is a nuclear power. "Yesterday, Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia [over Chechnya]. It seems he has for a minute, for a second, for half a minute, forgotten that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. He has forgotten about that." What with his performance in Istanbul, where Yeltsin did everything but pound the desk with his shoe and shout "we will bury you," it's just like old times again. The growling of the Russian bear is a familiar sound to those of us who grew up in the dark old days of the cold war, an echo of the past returned to haunt us in our middle age and dotage the renewed threat of nuclear war.
Yeltsin's rhetoric, and the screaming headlines about Russian and Chinese spies, evokes the lost world of fallout shelters in suburban backyards, and "air raid" drills in class, where we were told, as we got under our desks, to "duck and cover." It conjures memories of the Cuban missile crisis, On the Beach, and endless science fiction movies depicting the mutated remnants of humanity in the wake of a nuclearized World War III.
The renewed threat of nuclear war is hardly a good sign yet we hear endless declarations that we are entering a "new age," that the "Internet" or the "end of history" or some such high falutin' innovation has ushered in a whole stage of human development. Some such Panglossian fantasy is penned nearly every week, these days, as the triumphalism of the transnational elites reaches truly megalomaniac proportions. The latest and most flamboyant example is Andrew Sullivan, writing in Sunday's London Times, who gushes about the potency of American power like a love-struck schoolgirl. While Henry Luce's "American Century" the 20th century was not the sole achievement of the US, he writes,
"The next century, in contrast, will begin on America's terms, and its alone. There is no cultural rival, no economic competitor, no military alternative. The next century is one America will not simply dominate. It is also one that America, in a far deeper sense, has made possible. We may look back on this past decade one day and realize we were present at the creation."
The creation of what? A world state? An American Empire? But let us be clear. What Sullivan is talking about and this is especially clear to his British audience is the recreation and extension of the old British Empire only bigger, better, and with a much longer projected lifespan. This has long been the goal of a certain very active sector of the British elite, going all the way back to the infamous Cecil Rhodes: Rhodes and his successors understood that, in crossing the line between a republic and an empire, Americans would in effect reverse the verdict of 1776 and be reunited, both spiritually and politically, with their Anglo-Saxon brethren across the Atlantic. The old British Empire would be reborn and renewed. The triumph of this vision was naturally supposed to usher in a new era of universal peace and prosperity, such as Sullivan celebrates in his ode to "American hegemony" in all spheres, from the military to the cultural. To Sullivan, this is progress, cause for optimism and even celebration. "The American century," he intones, "far from being over, looks as if it is about to repeat itself for another 100 years."
As a native born American, I have a very different reaction to the prospect of another century carrying the burden of empire: dismay and genuine horror. For it means another century of endless wars and crusades for "democracy" that always end in tragedy and betrayal. Another century of mass murder in the name of "idealism," and global crusades in the name of some noble "ism" or other. Now there is something to look forward to and celebrate as we ring in the year 2000 a solid hundred years of perpetual war. and an incalculable sacrifice of blood and treasure. Oh, for joy!
In opposition to the insipid optimism of Sullivan, Francis Fukuyama, and other celebrants of the New World Order, I would posit a somewhat darker vision of the future. Instead of evolving to a higher stage, as we enter the new millennium, it seems we are devolving back to an earlier state, intent on reenacting history instead of learning from it. What else are we to make of the return of the cold war, complete with spy scares and a renewed Moscow-Beijing axis arrayed against the West? To confront that old fear, that haunted my youth the fear of nuclear war in middle age seems particularly ominous, and more than a little disquieting. Do we really have to relive all of that?
Sullivan's piece is entitled "The 21st century belongs to US.com" and he writes as if the Internet is the instrument and symbol of American dominance:
"In a simple sense the internet, which is clearly the central innovation of the decade, will soon become the indispensable means of communication for everyone in the developed world. And to put it bluntly, the internet is an American institution. It is informal, instant and in English."
Ignorance and arrogance, in Sullivan, combine to produce a particularly nasty case of "cane the Wogs and God save the Queen" imperialism, such as George Orwell wrote about in his classic Burmese Days. Aside from being insufferably imperious, such a royal attitude is also completely misinformed. While there are plenty of valuable sites that are not in English, no one disputes that the overwhelming number of computers and users are in the developed world. But it hardly follows that computer users in other countries would eventually give up their own language. Sullivan and the transnational set, who echo this bromide in endless articles, naturally think this would be a wonderful development: one language, one world. But I, for one, think it would be monstrous, and more than that an irreparable loss. For it would mean the end of local color, of variation, of cultural distinctions that define what it means to be human. and the beginning of the end of human culture as we know it. In short, it would mean the obliteration of Man.
Chances are, however, that, long before mankind is obliterated culturally, we will have succeeded in obliterating ourselves physically. Yelstin's stark reminder to the West that Russia is not Yugoslavia, or Iraq, in the context of ongoing Russian arms sales to China, raises the nuclear stakes considerably higher higher than they have been since the days of the Cuban missile crisis, when the whole world held its collective breath and waited to see who would pull the nuclear trigger first. I don't see what all the millennial celebrations of upwardly mobile progress are about this is progress?
To the necons, of course, this is progress, because now they can get their old jobs back. As the cold war drew to a close, all sorts of Russia "experts" and professional anti-Communists were literally put out of business almost overnight. The drum-beaters for more military spending were having trouble getting their message out, because without any credible external threat they couldn't make even a half-credible case. Their specialty had seemingly outlived its usefulness. Now, they are making a comeback, as both the Republican and Democratic wings of the War Party fix their gaze on the oil riches of the Caspian, and the war in Chechnya creates a backlash not only in the West but within Russia. This means boom times for the War Party not only in the United States but also in Russia, where nationalism and anti-Western sentiment is stoked by the overweening arrogance of the West.
The redivision of the world into power blocs, the rise of militantly anti-Western ideologies, not only in the Islamic world but in the former Soviet Union and China, the return of nuclear saber-rattling, the heightened aggressiveness of US foreign policy, the smug complacency of a hubristic and decadent intelligentsia all this seems not like progress at all, but a bizarre devolution that can only end in a complete reversion to barbarism. God save us from the future it's going to be downhill all the way.
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