Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

March 31, 2001

Troglodytes vs. "Progressives"

We are about to embark on a phony foreign policy debate, a Punch-and-Judy fight devoid of any meaning. In one corner, we will be told, is the Bush foreign policy team. Hellbent on reviving the Cold War, contemptuous of international agreements and the United Nations, it has little interest in worthy endeavors like "peace" in Northern Ireland, or adhering to the Kyoto Treaty on global warming or "peace" and "stability" in the Balkans. In the opposite corner will be the out-of-power Democratic Party foreign policy establishment and its media acolytes. It believes in international engagement, cooperation with Russia, acting as an "honest broker" between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and bringing "peace," "stability" and multiethnic harmony to the Balkans. So there it is: Isolationists versus Interventionists; Hawks versus Doves; Republican troglodytes versus Progressive Internationalists. What a wonderful debate! None of it, of course, has the slightest connection with reality.


This false and tendentious presentation of the issues serves the interests of our elites who want to suggest that the unseemly scramble for money and the perquisites of power – the American political process in other words – is really about sharply distinct approaches to the art of governance. The policies of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party foreign policy types are of course indistinguishable. By "peace" they mean the United States making war. By "stability" they mean US intervention to create instability. By "multiethnic harmony" they mean the United States sponsoring ethnic separatism and waging war against a hated ethnic group of the hour. By "honest broker" they mean the United States endorsing Israel’s program and urging its acceptance on the Palestinians. Democrats and Republicans are both committed to preserving US global hegemony in perpetuity.

Yet here is Robin Wright writing breathlessly in the Los Angeles Times: "America’s foreign policy community is increasingly anxious about the Bush administration’s abrupt, tough-guy approach to several of the key challenges facing the United States." Abrupt? The Bush team comes to power following an Administration that bombed more countries than any other. Evidently, the members of America’s august "foreign policy community" did not get anxious about the bombing of Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq almost every day for ten years. Not one of these attacks had any basis in international law or UN Resolution. Yet the "foreign policy community" and our vaunted "internationalists" remained untroubled. Depleted uranium in the Balkans? No problem there. American soldiers patrolling the streets and hillsides of ever more countries? Nothing wrong with that.


So what is causing the agitation? Apparently, the Bush Administration is showing insufficient respect for Russia. "Gone are the Clinton administration’s attempts to transform Russia into a modern state and its ‘win-win’ view of the Washington-Moscow relationship," laments the New York Times. The Times takes it self-evident that it is reasonable for the United States to arrogate to itself the right to transform Russia into a "modern state" – whatever "modern state" means. The Times also takes it as self-evident that the Russians too saw the Washington-Moscow relationship as one of "win-win." Was the looting of Russia by a bunch of gangsters in the name of a "privatization" policy pushed by Washington a case of "win-win"? Were the Washington-imposed IMF nostrums that reduced Russians to desperate poverty also "win-win"?

Such issues are not to be raised and thus we maintain the image of a caring, cooperative Democratic Party establishment. According to Robin Wright, "The Clinton policy was based on the belief that post-communist Russia needed to be welcomed by the West and encouraged on the road to free markets and democracy. Good relations smoothed out crises over issues such as the Balkans, Clinton officials argued." James Hoge, editor of Foreign Affairs the in-house journal of the foreign policy establishment laments: "Why are they [the Bush Administration] so interested in saying to Russia that it’s mismanaging things, that it’s not that important anymore, that they’ll take its views into account but not treat them all that seriously? I’m mystified by it. What can they possibly gain from this kind of schoolyard bellicosity at this stage?" Former Clinton National Security Affairs Adviser worries: "It’s extremely important that we remain engaged with [the Russians]…It would be a mistake if we downgraded our level of engagement with them." Parroting Berger cliché for cliché is wee Jamie Rubin, former flack for Madeleine Albright, who became famous for the outrageousness of his lies during NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia: "The initial attempt to downgrade American relations with Russia strikes me as verging on the petty," he lisps. "Russia is a still a major military power and has influence in parts of the world we care about."

Wright quotes [Michael] McFaul, the Russia "expert" at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who opines that one day Russia could again turn away from the West and revive old enmities. The Bush Administration, McFaul, "‘is showing that it doesn’t value close relations with the Russians’."


"Welcomed by the West"! "Good relations smoothed out crises over issues such as the Balkans"! "Russia could again turn away from the West and revive old enmities"! This is utter drivel. The idea that the Clinton Administration pursued a conciliatory policy towards Russia is laughable. It was the Clinton Administration that pushed ahead with expansion of NATO, thereby breaking the pledges that were made to the Russians following the fall of the Berlin Wall that the West would not seek to recruit the former Soviet Union’s satellites. It was the Clinton Administration that used NATO aggressively against Russia’s historic ally in the Balkans. It was the Clinton Administration that time and again humiliated the Russians by pursuing its vindictively anti-Serb policy. The Clinton Administration repeatedly broke its pledges to the Russians over Kosovo. The Russians were promised a zone of occupation. They did not get it. Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo was to be respected. The Administration set about creating an independent state there. It was the Clinton Administration that launched the American expansionist drive into Central Asia turning former Soviet republics like Georgia and Azerbaijan into NATO client states. The Clinton Administration no less than the Bush Administration was determined to press ahead with a missile defense system. Violation of the ABM Treaty meant as little to the Clinton crowd as to the Bush crowd.


No less than the out-of-power Clinton fan club the Bush toadies are seeking to foster the illusion that a sea-change has taken place in Washington. Hiding behind the matted hair on their chests they snarl at the supposed "fuzzy internationalism" that marked the Clinton years. They are no bunch of liberal do-gooders, they tell us, full of unrealistic ideas about changing human nature. They are not trying to build a "community of like-minded nations." According to Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, the Administration’s policy towards Russia will be "marked by realism." There will be no more illusions about Russia. The Russians are not like we are and therefore we will not trust them. Whether we have behaved in a way that would induce them to trust us is of course an issue not even worth bringing up.

Russia, we are told, is "unreformed." In other words, it has not been transformed into a mini-version of the United States. According to Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, during the Clinton years "The United States certified that reform was taking place where it was not…. The United States should not be faulted for trying to help. But . . . the United States should have ‘told the truth’ about what was happening." This does not on the face of it sound unreasonable. Except of course that Rice much like the New York Times does not seem to think there is anything wrong about the United States undertaking to "reform" another country. Nor does she even consider the possibility that "what was happening" was precisely the consequence of US-imposed policies.


As far as the Bush Administration is concerned, "Russia without illusion" means treating Russia with contempt. The Administration’s attitude to the Russians was spelled out by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s extraordinary attack in a recent interview: "These people seem to be willing to sell anything to anyone for money. It recalls Lenin’s phrase that the capitalists will sell the very rope from which we will hang them." It is hard to see why a representative of the world’s leading champion of free markets and free trade should disapprove of a country behaving in this thoroughly capitalist way. Moreover, it does seem strange for the world’s leading arms exporter to throw its hands up in horror at the idea of the Russian seeking to make money by selling arms.

A few days ago a senior State Department official, John Beyrle, met Ilyas Akhmadov, the Chechen separatist "foreign minister." It took place right after the three car bomb attacks in Stavropol which killed 22 people. The Russians are right to see this as nothing short of a US endorsement of terrorism. It also suggests that the United States does not regard Russia’s borders as inviolable. Valdimir Putin made this point starkly the other day. He likened the Chechen terrorists to the Albanian terrorists attacking Macedonia. The Chechens "were terrorists and those of them not willing to disarm…were brought to justice…and we are witnessing absolutely the same thing in Macedonia these days…Nothing has been done to disarm the terrorists…And I would like to call those who are attacking Macedonia terrorists, not rebels. Things should be called by their own names." Putin is of course well aware that the Albanian terrorists attacking Macedonia were armed and trained by the United States. Thus the meeting between Beyrle and Akhmadov will simply be further confirmation of US complicity in the attempted breakup of Russia.


The United States clearly intends to sponsor all manner of ethnic separatist movements within Russia so as to weaken and demoralize the Russian people. The policy of promoting ethnic separatism in the Balkans – all in the name of anti-nationalism – created a bunch of tiny, weak, vulnerable ethnically-based US satellites. The Russians fear that may be in store for them. The Bush Administration does not want to downgrade its relationship with Russia. It wants to push Russia out of Europe altogether, lock it out of the oil and gas riches of the Caspian and surround it with hostile NATO states. The United States is seeking to expand NATO and to incorporate the Baltic States within it. Doubtless, NATO membership for Georgia, Azerbaijan and the other Central Asian Republics is down the road.

The proposed missile defense system is yet another threat directed at Russia. Why would one to scrap an arms control agreement like the 1972 ABM Treaty unless one sought a unilateral military advantage so as to pursue an aggressive policy? At the moment the its nuclear-tipped missile force is about all Russia has to ward off US imperial designs. So long as the Russians can hit New York and Washington there is a limited amount of mischief the Americans can do. The Russians are right to worry about the intentions of the Bush Administration. But things would have been no better under a Gore Administration. Gore, like Wolfowitz, never saw a US intervention he did not like. He even boasted of his willingness to spend $100 million more on defense than Bush. But you won’t read about that in the New York Times.

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