Review of “Superpower Illusions”

“Reagan normally rejected [the neoconservatives] advice if it involved refusing to talk to adversaries.  But when his policies actually worked, instead of conceding that Reagan was right and they were wrong, they have sought explanations for the end of the Cold War that bolster the myths that have plagued us.  Thus the idea is perpetuated that it was U.S. force and threats, rather than negotiation, that ended the Cold War, and also that Reagan’s rhetoric “conquered” communism, and that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the equivalent of a military victory.  These claims are all distortions, all incorrect, all misleading, and all dangerous to the safety and future prosperity of the American people.”

-Jack F. Matlock, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union (page 52)

 

It would be nice if our current president would have picked someone like Jack Matlock – experienced, wise, non-partisan and fair-minded – to advise him on foreign policy, instead of the assortment of neocons, liberal interventionists and venal asshats he has chosen to surround himself with.

 

Perhaps Matlock could have talked him out of his decision to not take Putin’s calls at the height of the Ukraine crisis (1) and his subsequent churlish behavior at the V-Day celebrations in Normandy where he chomped on gum and made it clear he didn’t want to be in the same room with Putin, making things extremely awkward for our European allies.

 

Matlock, a former Democrat who worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations throughout his decades-long career, now an independent, explained what he thought was one of Reagan’s great insights:

 

“Each time there was a crisis of some sort, they [neoconservatives] advised Reagan to terminate negotiations in order to “punish” the Soviet Union for impermissible behavior. In their eyes, merely talking to Soviet leaders directly was a form of endorsement…Reagan rejected this approach.  He believed in communication, and believed that refusing to talk was a sign of weakness, not of strength.”  (page 52)

 

At this point, it is clear that Obama has largely cast his lot with the neoconservatives.   If you need any more convincing, consider the fact that Obama refuses to talk to Henry Kissinger, despite the fact that Kissinger meets with Putin twice a year and probably has more insight into the Russian president than any American statesman alive today and has publicly stated that our current policy toward Russia is unwise.  In an interview a few months back, Jimmy Carter admitted (not in the context of Ukraine or Russia) that Obama was the only president since he left office that had not once asked for his advice or counsel on anything.  By contrast, in response to a piece recently published by Robert Kagan where he spewed the same tired neocon worldview, Obama said he wanted to have lunch with Kagan and discuss his concerns.  (2)

 

So, Obama refuses to talk to elder statesmen who may have insights into various issues of great import, but will clear his calendar to meet with a neocon nut burger whose views any sane person would have dismissed years ago based on their miserable record.

 

Matlock skillfully discredits neoconservative ideology (along with elements of others that recently have had influence in Washington) as another in a long line of utopian theories of history that justifies remaking the world toward some ideal purpose – in this case, creating a world in our image via regime change.  He also convincingly outlines the dangers of our leaders continuing to be influenced by this nonsense and the lies that prop it up.

 

Cold War Myths v. Realities

 

Matlock listed the following as Cold War realities in response to Cold War myths:

 

*The concept of two Superpowers was exaggerated.  The USSR was only competitive in terms of its military capacity and the arms race.  It was not economically competitive.

 

*The arms race damaged both parties.  However, it damaged the USSR more because it hobbled its economic and technological development.

 

Matlock confirms how economic analyst Seymour Melman described the Soviet economy years ago – not as a truly Communist or Socialist arrangement but a state run capitalist system with a vanguard political party controlling it.

 

*The zero-sum ideology.

 

This is true but not just for the Soviets as Matlock seems to imply.  As declassified government documents and other documentation demonstrates, during the Kennedy administration, national security and military advisors repeatedly tried to talk the president into a nuclear first strike under the delusion that the Soviets would not be able to retaliate in proportion and that the destruction of the USSR and any disproportionate retaliation or fallout would be worth it to defeat the evil empire.  These advisors truly believed this narrative that we were the good guys and any means necessary was justified by the evil we had to vanquish.   (See my review of JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass).

 

*Peaceful coexistence did not equal peace.

 

Again, all the onus seems to be on the Soviets with the Brezhnev doctrine, which provided that the Soviet Union had the obligation to use force to preserve socialist governments it could control.  Fair enough, the USSR was an empire and acted like one in its own peculiar manner; however, the U.S. fomented and participated in military and covert CIA interventions that were responsible for millions of deaths, torture and setback in terms of political development in the targeted countries.  It’s not often talked about in polite company, but it has been documented by people like William Blum.  Matlock does acknowledge the CIA’s role in the coup that overthrew democratically elected Iranian President Mohammad Mosadegh and obliquely acknowledges some of the rest, but seems to rationalize it as defensive against the Soviet Union’s stated objective of spreading Communism around the world.

 

*Soviet ideology was rigid and its rigidity was destructive.

 

*U.S. political partisanship was destructive.

 

Matlock gives several examples of this, such as McCarthyism and blame games over who “lost” China.  He argues that such behavior was divisive, overly simplistic and diverted attention away from constructive evaluations and solutions to problems.

 

This trend seems to be worse than ever according to a June 12th report by the Pew Research Center where it documents that large percentages of both Democrats and Republicans view members of the other party as a threat to the nation, with this sentiment a bit more pronounced among self-identified Republicans.

 

*Hyper-secrecy on both sides created more dangers than it prevented.

 

NSA?

 

Though Reagan was responsible for many abhorrent policies, Matlock makes a convincing case that he was sincere in his desire for serious nuclear arms reduction and establishing a cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union, but hit a brick wall with Soviet leaders Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko.

 

And along came Gorbachev.

 

Reagan and Gorbachev’s initial meetings did not reflect a terribly auspicious beginning but a proposal by Gorbachev calling for complete nuclear disarmament by 1999 got Reagan’s attention.  Though there was suspicion that this proposal was more of a propaganda ploy on Gorbachev’s part, it provided an opening between the two leaders.  The subsequent Chernobyl catastrophe reinforced the danger of nuclear weapons to the Soviet leadership.

 

According to Matlock, Reagan was very careful during negotiations with Gorbachev to allow him to come to the conclusion that many of the negotiated changes were in the Soviet Union’s interest due to the economic damage resulting from the military budget necessitated by the Cold War.  If Gorbachev would not have been able to negotiate the Cold War’s end and the need for allocation of massive resources toward the military, he would not have been able to implement the reforms needed for glasnost, perestroika and the eventual dismantling of the Soviet Union.

 

Reagan also was careful never to frame the situation as a victory or defeat.  Bush I followed this approach until Bush’s re-election campaign when he declared to the American electorate that “We won the Cold War.”

 

Post-Soviet U.S.-Russia Relations – Treating Russia Like a Loser

 

Another damaging post-Cold War myth that Matlock mentions is the idea that, because Russia was no longer the Communist Soviet Union, that it had magically become a “democracy” overnight. This ignored its 400 year history of authoritarian leadership in general and over 70 years of a relatively closed and totalitarian state in particular.

 

Matlock describes the immediate environment in post-Soviet Russia as one where many people, having no previous experience with democracy, often conflated it with a lack of rules.  When the communist command economy was dismantled, western advisors often insisted that Russians not rely on the state for any economic assistance during the transition under the guise of leaving communism behind.  One illustrative story relayed by Matlock involved a member of the Moscow city council who wanted to encourage small private businesses in his district.  He had developed a plan to “offer long-term low-interest loans from the city budget to entrepreneurs…When he explained his idea the Hoover (Institution) economists objected, saying that he must not involve the government…If the government provided loans or subsidies, that would be perpetuating socialism.”

 

The city council member was taken aback and asked where entrepreneurs would get their seed capital.  After being told that it would have to come from private sources, he inquired, “You mean from our criminals?  If they provide the capital, they control the business.  That’s not what we want to happen.”  (p. 111) Unfortunately, that is what happened.

 

Matlock further describes conditions as follows:  “In Russia, the Soviet collapse was followed by runaway inflation that destroyed all savings, even worse shortages of essential goods than existed under communism, a sudden rise in crime, and a government that, for several years was unable to pay even  [its] miserable pensions on time. Conditions resembled anarchy much more than life in a modern democracy.” (p. 6)

 

Exploitive conditions were foisted on Russia when economic  “advisors” from the Harvard Institute for International Development and other advocates of the “Chicago School” of economics colluded with Russian predators like Anatoly Chubais.  (4)

 

Matlock admitted that Bush I should have attempted to pool a coalition of knowledgeable people from across the western world to assist Russia in transitioning from a command economy to a free market one, something that had never been done before.  But he apparently didn’t have the political will to do so.

 

This was the mess that Vladimir Putin inherited when he took over as President of Russia in 2000. However, stability has since been restored to Russia along with economic improvements, the repayment of most of Russia’s external debt (which provided independence) and internal investment of profits from fossil fuel resources.   Sharon Tennison who has participated in various citizen development projects in Russia since the early 1980’s, and has visited Russia numerous times over those three decades, describes the changes over the past 14 years as follows:

 

“During this time, I’ve traveled throughout Russia several times every year, and have watched the country slowly change under Putin’s watch.  Taxes were lowered, inflation lessened, and laws slowly put in place.  Schools and hospitals began improving.  Small businesses were growing, agriculture was showing improvement, and stores were becoming stocked with food.

 

“Highways were being laid across the country, new rails and modern trains appeared even in far out places, and the banking industry was becoming dependable.  Russia was beginning to look like a decent country—certainly not where Russians hoped it to be long term, but improving incrementally for the first time in their memories.” (5)

 

Tennison also provides an interesting counterpoint to the constant diet of Putin-is-the-Anti-Christ our leaders and media are feeding the public in pursuit of an agenda.  Noting that she is often greeted with the designation of “Putin apologist” for offering her truthful observations, this is based on her personal interaction with Vladimir Putin whom she met in the early 1990’s while he was a bureaucrat in St. Petersburg who reviewed her organization’s project proposal.  She described him as intelligent, thoughtful, courteous and honest.  He was conspicuous in the sense that, unlike many of his colleagues at the time, he never took bribes.  Her collection of experiences and impressions by others who have dealt directly with Putin also contradict his caricatured depiction by American leaders and mainstream media pundits as simply a “thug” who is personally responsible for poisonings and murders of journalists – claims that analysts who really know Russia say are unsubstantiated. (5)

 

Tennison’s impressions may not represent the whole person either, especially since he has taken the reins of a large country that was beset with a multitude of internal problems and outside pressures that may encourage some ethical gymnastics, like the immediate pardoning of Boris Yeltsin who was personally corrupt and facilitated the plundering of the Russian economy by academic proponents of “shock therapy” against the wishes of the Russian people. (4)  Despite this, and the fact that the perilous conditions for journalists in Russia were well underway during Yeltsin’s reign, American leaders and media often portrayed Yeltsin in a positive light.

 

Contrast that with Tennison quoting a State Department official she talked to as describing the U.S. government’s attitude toward Putin:   “The ‘knives were drawn’ when it was announced that Putin would be the next president.  I could never find out why.”  One glaring difference between Yeltsin and Putin is that Putin no longer allowed outsiders to simply make off with Russia’s wealth.  And while oligarchs still control much of Russia’s wealth, Putin ordered them to pay taxes and stay out of politics.  Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was adopted by the human rights community in the West, violated both rules and was ready to sell a significant portion of Yukos Oil to Exxon.  Consequently, Putin stripped him of his wealth and jailed him. (5) (6)

 

NATO and Ukraine

 

Matlock discusses when Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker negotiated a gentleman’s agreement with Gorbachev that, in exchange for allowing a reunified Germany as a NATO member, NATO would not be expanded any further east.  Due to the Soviet Union’s history of having been invaded twice by Germany during the 20th century, Gorbachev was understandably hesitant to allow a unified Germany.   However, Baker explained that it would be better to have a unified Germany as a member of NATO where any contemplated military actions would supposedly be kept in check than to have an independent Germany.  Gorbachev agreed with this reasoning but made a grave error in not demanding that the agreement be put in writing.

 

This agreement was subsequently broken by Clinton who encouraged the entry of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO and Bush II who actively lobbied for the entry of seven more Eastern European nations into the alliance.

 

Matlock explains that when Clinton was advised by Russian representatives and experts on Russia/Soviet Union, even some who had participated in the negotiated end of the Cold war, that he was about to make a serious geopolitical blunder in encouraging NATO expansion, he did it anyway.

 

“[One of two decisions] turned Russian public opinion during the years of the Clinton administration from strongly pro-American to vigorous opposition to American policies abroad.  The first was the decision to extend the NATO military structure into countries that had previously been members of the Warsaw Pact.  There was no need to expand NATO to ensure the security of the newly independent countries of Eastern Europe.  There were other ways those countries could have been reassured and protected without seeming to re-divide Europe to Russia’s disadvantage…Combined with rhetoric claiming “victory” in the Cold War, expanding NATO suggested to the Russian public that throwing off communism and breaking up the Soviet Union had probably been a bad idea.  Instead of getting credit for voluntarily joining the West, they were being treated as if they had been defeated and were not worthy to be allies.”  (p. 170-172)

 

Matlock’s description of modern Ukraine’s complex political history and demographics provided a foreshadowing (this book was published in 2010) of the post-coup problems we are currently witnessing:  “Well over half of Ukrainian citizens oppose the country’s entry into NATO.  To understand why, one must bear in mind that Ukraine’s biggest security problem is not Russian “imperialism” but political, social, economic and linguistic divisions inside the country.” (p. 253)

 

Matlock concluded that any attempts to bring Ukraine into NATO would have dire consequences.   Putin made this very argument to then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice during a 200_ meeting during which Rice, representing the Washington consensus of ignoring Russian warnings about reckless policies in an area where they seem to understand little and care less about the consequences…”..You are playing with fire…”…Rice’s response and attitude it reflected…(Strongman, pp. __).

 

Despite denials in some quarters, the economic agreement with Europe that Yanukovich refused to sign included language that would lay the groundwork for NATO membership.  This presented another serious problem in addition to the economic exclusivity and austerity program it would have also mandated on an already poor country that relies heavily on trade with Russia. While Yanukovich may have been playing both ends against the middle with Russia and the EU, it was certainly not irrational for him to have rejected this agreement.  (7) (8)

 

As Russia expert Stephen Cohen stated in a recent interview with Thom Hartmann, no country anywhere in the world, regardless of their leader, would allow an adversarial military alliance to plant itself on their borders – it would be considered an act of aggression.  (9)

 

The bottom line is that it’s in the U.S.’s national security interests to have good relations with Russia, as Matlock argues, mainly in pursuit of nuclear disarmament.  Putin was also the first foreign leader to call President Bush after the 9/11 attacks because he saw it as an opening to increased cooperation.  Russia’s help is also needed to negotiate a resolution in Syria, Iran and other hot spots where it can exert influence in line with American interests.

 

And as far as castigating Russia for not having a full-fledged liberal democracy, Matlock points out that it’s fallacious to think that two nations have to share the same form of government to be effective allies. Conversely, two nations having the same form of government has historically been no guarantee that they will not go to war. Moreover, if we applied democratic standards as criteria for allies, then we’d have to ditch Saudi Arabia, a repressive monarchy that publicly executes homosexuals.

 

Additional Resources

1)      http://consortiumnews.com/2014/06/26/nyt-revamps-its-false-ukraine-narrative/

2)      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/16/us/politics/historians-critique-of-obama-foreign-policy-is-brought-alive-by-events-in-iraq.html?_r=0

3)      http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/

4)      http://www.thenation.com/article/harvard-boys-do-russia

5)      http://www.globalresearch.ca/who-is-vladimir-putin-why-does-the-us-government-hate-him/5381205

6)      http://michael-hudson.com/2014/05/the-new-cold-wars-ukraine-gambit/

7)      http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-un-says-the-ukrainian-people-must-decide-their-fate-nato-wants-something-else/5362936

8)      http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/06/washingtons-iron-curtain-in-ukraine/

9)      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bm_1ddQkHak

MH17: Read Widely, Think Critically

Since the tragic downing of a commercial jet over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, the Anglo-American media has put out a tsunami of coverage, much of which was based on some circumstantial evidence mixed with a lot of conjecture and innuendo.  As it turns out, many of the claims were based on the Kiev government’s claims – which the State Department often regurgitates – even though many previous claims by the Kiev government throughout the Ukraine crisis and civil war have turned out to be less than accurate, to say the least.  Other sensational claims turned out to have been made and repeated by media outlets that had no actual reporters on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

Since this involves not only a tragedy but the potential for serious escalation between two nuclear powers, it is imperative that people seek out views from a wide variety of sources and put their critical thinking skills to work.  As a counter-balance to much of the shallow garbage that passes for journalism today in the American press, I urge readers to check out the following sources and form their own conclusions.

On July 21st, the Russian Defense Ministry gave a presentation on the MH17 downing, including presentation of radar imagery, along with 10 questions they put to the U.S. to prove their allegations (the following has the best reproduction of images shown during the briefing that I’ve found, along with commentary by an analyst of Ukraine/Russia (Vineyard of the Saker) who has a very good reputation in the blogosphere:

http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Russian-Military-Final-by-Michael-Collins-Brand-Obama_Mh17-Airline-Crash_Russia_Ukraine-140722-494.html

Investigative journalist Robert Parry, who has won awards for reporting on intelligence issues, discusses what his inside source has told him about MH17:

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/20/what-did-us-spy-satellites-see-in-ukraine/

Parry’s follow up in response to the US intelligence briefing to the press regarding MH17 – the intelligence community’s response was prompted by the Russian military’s presentation on 7/21:

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/22/the-mystery-of-a-ukrainian-army-defector/

Video of AP reporter, Matt Lee, demonstrating what real journalism is during an exchange with State Dept. spokesperson Marie Harf where he questions her persistently about the Russian military’s presentation and how the US government has not provided any substantive evidence to support their grave accusations regarding MH17:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqPCejH3mTM

Soviet Fates

Soviet Fates

“In Washington DC, one feels the rarefied air of a Himalayan peak.  Seen from the grandiose palaces of the administration, where the fate of the world is decided, foreign people look small, primitive and largely irrelevant.  Here and there some real experts are tucked away, but nobody really consults them.”
-Uri Avnery

Avnery’s observation about American foreign policy and the attitudes behind it was made in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  But it is an apt description of American leaders’ foreign policy in general, and pretty much regardless of which party is in charge at any given time.  Cohen’s book about the history of the Soviet Union (and later the Russian Federation) and the inevitable exploration of America’s attitude toward and relationship with the Russians seems to reinforce Avnery’s insight, particularly after the end of the Cold War.

Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives covers roughly the time between Lenin’s death, which fueled a brutal rivalry for who would become his successor, and the present day.  It focuses on the concept of exploring possible alternatives that were potentially available in the Soviet Union/Russia at various points throughout that historical timeline.

Cohen is a recognized scholarly expert on the Stalin era and the attendant terror that gripped the Soviet Union during his 20 plus-year reign.  A whole chapter is devoted to this and the political and psychological ramifications of it are explored throughout the rest of the book as well.  Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev, who admitted that he had plenty of blood on his hands from Stalin’s era, comes across as a deeply courageous and tragic figure who in the course of a few years freed all of Stalin’s prisoners, made some attempt to reintegrate them into society and publicly repudiated many of Stalin’s excesses.  He also attempted to reform the system with some limited success and many failures amid a conflicted Communist Party leadership.  He was eventually removed from power in 1964.

There is much else that is interesting and insightful offered in the coverage of the mid-1960’s to the mid-1980’s, including an examination of whether the Soviet Union could have been reformed, but in light of current events, the rest of this review will focus on Russia after the end of the Cold War as it is the most instructive for understanding the present foreign policy mess surrounding Russia and the West.

Vladimir Putin is a flawed leader, but one who is, upon closer and more thoughtful examination, not the imperialistic, anti-Western, anti-democratic cartoon character that many of our leaders and members of the mainstream media make him out to be, with that portrayal, of course, being ratcheted up recently.  Instead, what emerges is a more nuanced picture of a somewhat conflicted leader who, according to Cohen, has supported democratic policies at times and opposed them at times.  Despite claims by pundits that he single-handedly controls every aspect of Russian society, Putin must lead amidst conflicting attitudes in the Kremlin toward the West and the policies associated with the West.

To understand where that ambiguity, and sometimes outright hostility, comes from, one must understand the actual historical experience of the Russian people in relation to Western policy.

A quote from Putin that is trotted out by many commentators in an attempt to demonstrate an irrational nostalgic yearning for the Soviet Union and his grand ambitions to revive it is a comment he made during a domestic speech in 2005 wherein he stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.  (1)

It should be noted that, according to Cohen, a majority of Russians also regret the end of the Soviet Union.

To understand what Putin might have actually meant by that statement, why it reflects the view of most Russians and to understand the conflicted attitudes of the Kremlin toward the West, it is imperative to take a look at how the relationship between Russia and the West, primarily the United States, evolved after the negotiated dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

As documented by other historians as well as Cohen, during that negotiated dissolution in which the Warsaw Pact military alliance was rendered defunct, a gentleman’s agreement was entered into by the Bush I administration, specifically through Secretary of State James Baker, that in return for allowing the reunification of Germany and its admission as a NATO member, NATO would not be extended further east.  This promise was broken first by the Clinton administration and then by Bush 2 who spearheaded the admission of seven more Eastern European nations into NATO including three former Soviet republics, reinforcing Russia’s perception of being militarily encircled.  The obvious question to ask is why we needed to keep NATO if the reason for its existence had disappeared?   Bush 2′s Senior Director for Russia on the National Security Council admitted that an alternative that was not pursued by the U.S. was to dissolve NATO and create a new pact that reflected new global realities and eventually included Russia – a lost opportunity that would have fateful consequences.  (2)

This refusal in Washington to give up the Cold War mentality was foreshadowed as early as 1989 when Cohen relates a debate he was invited to participate in with a Cold-War professor before the Bush I administration over the possibility of a U.S.-Soviet strategic partnership:  “Declarations alone could not terminate decades of warfare mentality….Many of the top level officials present clearly shared my opponent’s views, though the President did not.” (p. 171)

Then, there is the shock therapy that Russia allowed Western elites to administer to its citizens during the 1990’s under the guise of modernizing and marketizing its economy.  It’s a crucial enough point to justify quoting Cohen at length:

“[Boris Yeltsin under the advisement of American elites] adopted a “shock therapy” program that immediately ended Soviet-era price controls and other consumer subsidies and privatized the state’s most valuable assets, from natural resources, large industries, and banks to rail transport.

The result was the worst economic and social catastrophe ever suffered by a major nation in peacetime.  Russia sank into a corrosive economic depression greater than that of the American 1930s.  Investment plunged by 80 percent, GDP by almost 50 percent; some two-thirds of Russians were impoverished; the life expectancy of men fell below 59 years; and the population began to decline annually by almost a million people.  In 1998, with nothing left to sustain it, despite several large Western loans, the Russian financial system collapsed.  State and private banks defaulted on their domestic and foreign obligations, causing still more poverty and widespread misery.  (p. 26; emphasis mine).

These events put Putin’s words into a more sober and perfectly rational context – what he probably meant was that after the Soviet Union’s exit from the world stage, Russia had been too trusting of the West’s motives and made too many concessions that had come back to bite it in the ass, leaving a lot of destabilization in its wake. Not to mention, it left the world with a lone empire that acts drunk on triumphalism.

Putin’s attitude toward the U.S. has been fairly consistent in his speeches and interviews during his tenure as President and Prime Minister of the Russian Federation:  calling out the U.S.’s most reckless policies, hubris and double-standards while leaving the door ajar for cooperation.

That opening for cooperation seemed to be paying off during the brief period in 2013 when Putin and Obama had established enough of a rapport to actually start working together to address serious geopolitical issues, like avoiding a U.S. military invasion of Syria based on what turned out to be unreliable evidence of the Syrian government’s responsibility for a chemical weapons attack (3) and negotiating a solution to the Iran nuclear problem.  As investigative journalist Robert Parry reports, Putin pissed off the neoconservatives by thwarting their plans for more regime change in the Middle East.   (4)

In light of this post-Cold War history, we have the Ukraine crisis that developed as the co-opting of grievances by citizens of Ukraine, particularly the western part of the country which leans more toward Europe, by American agents to foment a coup as admitted by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland in cahoots with American ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. (5) It should be noted that Nuland is married to influential neoconservative Robert Kagan and shares the neocon world view of regime change at America’s whim.   Though Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s administration was corrupt, he was democratically elected.   Of course, this is not the first time American officials have been involved in overthrowing democratically elected leaders it feels don’t serve its interests, regardless of the interests of the people actually living there and platitudes about democracy.

As Cohen has commented in interviews about the Ukraine crisis, preventing a country literally on its doorstep from joining NATO is now an existential issue from the perspective of Russian security in a post-Soviet world order that has been less than hospitable. Anyone who had any real knowledge or understanding of Russia’s interests and the history of the last 23 years could have predicted this whole fiasco.  Cohen’s basic analysis is echoed by other experts on Russia such as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and ex-diplomat John Matlock. (6) (7)

If we really want a more democratic and open society in Russia and elsewhere, we would be better advised to not encourage government leaders’ more autocratic tendencies by backing them into corners where they must worry about their sovereignty and independence rather than allowing them the space to develop their own society in their own time, consistent with their own history and culture.

One of the most insightful observations in the book comes from Cohen’s analysis of comments made by Yegor Ligachev, a moderate-conservative Communist Party reformer who had a complicated alliance with Gorbachev during the glasnost/perestroika era:  “Ligachev has been proved right about one essential issue:  Russia can borrow from the West but it cannot transplant an American or other Western style system into its native soil, as was attempted so disastrously in the post-Soviet 1990s.”  (p. 83).

It is a lesson for American leaders who insist on imposing their agenda on the rest of the world with often disastrous and tragic consequences for everyone involved, then acting shocked when the rest of the world resents and even resists it.

*Published today:  “Needed:  Obama-Putin Summit on Ukraine” Memorandum to President Obama signed by numerous veteran intelligence professionals, dated 5/4/2014.  Link below.

Additional Sources:

  • http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/mar/06/john-bolton/did-vladimir-putin-call-breakup-ussr-greatest-geop/
  • “Special Report:  How the U.S. Made its Putin Problem Worse” by David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed, Reuters.  4/19/2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/18/us-ukraine-putin-diplomacy-special-repor-idUSBREA3H0OQ20140418
  • “The Red Line and the Rat Line” by Seymour Hersh, London Review of Books.  4/17/2014.  http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line
  • “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis” by Robert Parry, Consortium News.  3/2/2014.  http://consortiumnews.com/2014/03/02/what-neocons-want-from-ukraine-crisis/
  • Leaked Phone Conversation Between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt Discussing Ukraine.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jL7cgMiGKL0
  • “Trying Not to Give Peace a Chance” by Ray McGovern, Consortium News.  4/20/2014.  http://consortiumnews.com/2014/04/20/trying-not-to-give-peace-a-chance/
  • “Former U.S. Ambassador:  Behind Crimea Crisis, Russia Responding to Years of Hostile U.S. Policy” – interview of John Matlock by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now.  3/20/2014.  http://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/20/fmr_us_ambassador_behind_crimea_crisis
  • *Bonus:  “Needed:  Obama-Putin Summit on Ukraine” Memorandum to President Obama signed by numerous veteran intelligence professionals, dated 5/4/2014.  Consortium News.  http://consortiumnews.com/2014/05/04/needed-obama-putin-summit-on-ukraine/

Analysis & Book Reviews on U.S. Foreign Policy and Russia

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