June 22, 2000

Beyond Missile Defense:
Resentment of America

For years the German political writer Josef Joffe served as a Cold War version of the "good German." Unlike the "bad Germans" – Greens, peaceniks, Ostpolitikers, anti-nuclear activists – he could always be relied on to hew to the pro-American line. As a result, he became wildly popular in the United States, so much so that, though he had a daily job in Germany, it appeared as if he was spending almost all of his time over here. A grant here, a fellowship there – and pretty soon he became the "neo-conservative" answer to Guenther Grass. However, like much of the rest of the Cold War apparat, Joffe went on and on long after the geopolitical need for someone like him had disappeared. Anxious not to lose his access to US funding – not to mention the pages of the New York Review of Books, Commentary and the New York Times – he devoted his energies to persuading American policymakers (though they hardly needed much persuading) that the world desperately needed the leadership of the United States. Denunciations of Germany’s feeble Cold War effort were now replaced by fashionable attacks on Germany’s alleged reluctance to pull its weight in NATO; its lack of an "entrepreneurial culture"; its "cosseted" workers; its "bloated" State sector.

Whatever Joffe wrote was carefully calibrated to appeal to those who hold – or have influence over those who hold – the purse strings at the foundations and the think-tanks. Nowhere is this meticulous attention to the sensibilities of people with power more evident than in his recent article in the New York Times. On the face of it, Joffe was saying something eminently sensible. If the United States wants to maintain its global primacy, it should try to do so by leading rather than bullying. Yet, in his desperate attempt not to give offense to his patrons, Joffe produced a staggeringly dishonest piece of writing. He begins with last week’s meeting in Berlin of Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and their commitment to forge a "strategic partnership." It was indeed an event of some magnitude – the first step in the possible emergence of a gigantic European power from the "Atlantic to the Urals," in de Gaulle’s famous phrase (one much favored by the Russians). This is not simply old-fashioned "balance of power" politics, Joffe correctly warns, whereby "[n]os. 2, 3 and 4…seek to balance against Mr. Big." There is real resentment at work here. And what is this resentment all about? The global tyranny of the United States perhaps? No, apparently, it is directed exclusively at our proposed Missile Defense System. "Both Europe and Russia intensely dislike the American missile defense project, and for good reasons. If it works (which it won’t for many years, if ever), the ‘Son of Star Wars’ will further magnify American dominance by devaluing the nuclear arsenals of Russia, China and Europe. No wonder Mr. Putin and Mr. Schroeder together trained their guns on the anti-missile bubble in the sky."

Joffe is being very calculating here. He knows that the "left-liberal" foreign policy types he aims to curry favor with do not think much of the Missile Defense System. The trouble is, both Bill Clinton and Al Gore also support Missile Defenses. So Joffe pulls off a piece of legerdemain. He blames everything on Congress. "Congress has come down a long way from the days of Senators Arthur Vandenberg and J. William Fulbright. Now, it is obliviousness with a dollop of yahooism. Why else would Congress have foisted Star Wars, the Sequel on President Clinton – without looking at the feasibility (low), the costs (very high) and the toll on American leadership (soaring)." Europe’s elites – as ignorant and parochial as their American counterparts – invariably blame anything they do not like about the United States either on "Congress" or on a "know-nothing" American public. On this issue at least, the elites of the two Continents are of one mind. Needless to say, neither Congress nor public opinion has ever had the slightest influence on US foreign policymaking. Clinton’s apparent blamelessness for Missile Defenses is analogous to the way he has succeeded escaping censure for supporting the death penalty. He only does it for opportunistic reasons. So that’s all right then.

Joffe, as it happens, is right about the Missile Defense System. While the project may have made sense during the Cold War, going ahead with it now would waste resources and antagonize just about every country under the sun. But German and Russian resentment at the United States is about a lot more than the return of SDI. Joffe does not dare to go into this lest he upset his US patrons. Let’s start with Kosovo. The Germans were unhappy about being bullied into taking part in last year’s bombing of Yugoslavia. They were annoyed at the way their various attempts to negotiate a "ceasefire" were brusquely dismissed by Washington. The Germans are unhappy about US plans to build its Embassy right in the center of Berlin, thereby preventing the public from having proper access to the Brandenburg Gate. The Germans were unhappy at the high-handed way in which the Clinton Administration rejected their choice of IMF head to succeed Michel Camdessus. The list goes on and on.

Russian grievances go back even further. The Russians were unhappy about the privatization program, sponsored by Washington, which led to the widespread looting of the country’s resources. The Russians were unhappy about the expansion of NATO, pushed through by the Americans, in flagrant violation of commitments made at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Russians are unhappy about NATO’s continuing aggression against their longtime allies, the Serbs. The Russians were unhappy about NATO’s use of their former satellites last year to prevent them from reinforcing their troops in Pristina. They are unhappy about NATO’s violation of its promise to give them a zone of occupation in Kosovo. The Russians are unhappy about the endless criticisms of their actions in Chechnya even though – as they see it – they are behaving no differently from, say, the British in Northern Ireland.

Then there is the case of media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, arrested recently for alleged "embezzlement." The Russians, perfectly understandably, feel insulted when other countries, following the lead of the United States, assume they have the right to intrude into the workings of their legal system. The tirelessly yapping William Safire cries: "Trumped up charges!" But he has no idea that this is so. When it comes to Russia, however, for Safire and many others insult and invective is de rigeur. Clearly there is a case against Gusinsky. As President Putin pointed out, Gusinsky "is not accused as a representative of the press. He is not a journalist but a businessman. He takes loans all the time from different banks and rarely pays them back…According to the press, he has already borrowed a billion dollars. Last week Gusinsky was due to repay 200 million dollars. He didn’t do so. The money was guaranteed by Gazprom. Yet another time, Gazprom repaid the money for him in return for shares. Every time Gazprom repays hundreds of millions for him, he gives shares." These are facts, which even his supporters do not deny. Whether he did anything criminal is a matter to be resolved in the Courts, not on the floor of the US Senate or in the gaseous ravings of our ignorant hacks.

The Russians do not complain about Waco, or the murder of Turks in Germany, or the record number of prisoners filling up America’s prison cells. So why do they have to put up with these self-righteous lectures? Is it any wonder that the Russians have turned to a nationalist leader who promises to restore dignity to the nation and to stand up to American bullying. Needless to say, there is nothing about any of this in Joffe’s piece. It is much safer to waffle on about the Missile Defense System. Joffe does not discuss the most recent example of American high-handedness, as reported in the New York Times: the proposal to allow Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to leave office with guarantees for his safety and savings. It is entirely typical of our media – forever yearning to be a pillar of the State – that their discussion of the removal from power of an elected leader of a sovereign country should be exclusively preoccupied with how NATO’s creature, the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague would feel about this. The wishes of the people of Yugoslavia are neither here nor there.

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Wednesday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

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It is hard to know what to make of this story. I suspect that has something to do with Clinton’s increasingly desperate search in the waning months of his Presidency of a legacy. The thought of Slobodan Milosevic still in power in Belgrade on January 20, 2001 drives him up the wall. So he has probably taken to pleading with the Russians to bail him out one last time. They can offer Milosevic asylum and no one will dare hold it against them, he probably told Putin. Let that hag Carla del Ponte rant and rave. No country will risk antagonizing the Russians by imposing sanctions just for her sake. If Clinton did suggest something along these lines to Putin during their recent Moscow summit, the dour Russian President was not buying. It is reported that Putin told Clinton hat "Miami seemed as good a place for Mr. Milosevic as Moscow." This sounds like typically dark Russian humor. The Russians have no interest in helping Clinton with his dilemma.

Clinton has two options. Either he provokes another confrontation in the Balkans. Or he succeeds in having Milosevic assassinated. Or both. Such actions are, of course, the way gangsters operate, not great powers. You will get no sense of this from Josef Joffe. Instead, he drools about "that marvelous alphabet soup of international institutions from NATO to GATT and the IMF that turned America into the ‘indispensable power’ celebrated by Madeleine Albright. Why? Because this No. 1 was the first in history to lead rather than rule." Yet such uplifting pomposities – as vacuous as they are false – have very little connection with a real world in which the United States gets to decide who should be in power. Joffe’s nauseating valentines to Madeleine Albright simply exacerbate the problem.

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