All posts by natyliesb

The Power of Impossible Ideas: How One Woman Helped Changed US-Soviet/Russian Relations

(Disclosure: I have become well-acquainted with the author over the past several months as a result of my research of the Russia/Ukraine crisis. – Natylie)


“Everyone asks how and why, I, a non-academic, ordinary American woman, mother of four children have ended up working at the US-Russia interface. It seems to others like an unimaginable career path.   I agree. I had no previous interest in Russia and never could have guessed that I would spend a quarter of a century immersed in Russia’s transition from communism to a market economy. The personal answer is rather straight forward. My children were near leaving the nest in the late ‘70s—and the larger outside world, particularly, the nuclear arms race, began impinging on my reality.


By autumn of 1979, the world felt full of foreboding. Information and talk about nuclear weapons and targets was omnipresent. Political campaigns were driven by the US-USSR relationship and the threat of nuclear war. Perhaps it had been so previously, but it had not registered with me until that time. All of a sudden it was in my face every time I switched on the TV or picked up a newspaper. I worried daily about my own children’s futures. Would they get a chance to have families and careers of their own? If not, this wasn’t acceptable to me. Something had to be done.” (p. 2)


This story of a middle-aged mother and nurse, motivated to take matters into her own hands by her concern about possible nuclear war, captures the anxiety that people who were old enough to be aware experienced during the early 1980’s when the Cold War had reached heights not seen since the early 60’s, with hostile rhetoric and dangerous posturing on both sides, backed up with 50,000 nuclear weapons pointed at each other – enough to destroy the planet 10 times over.


Tennison wrote a letter to President Reagan after he’d stated that 20 million American deaths would be acceptable in a nuclear war – just one of many ludicrous claims being bandied about by politicians and their pet media pundits during that time period, which included the suggestion that Americans could easily survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a hole in the ground with a door placed over it and three feet of dirt. In her letter, she told the president not to consider her and her four children as one of the 20 million “acceptable” deaths. In response she received a terse reply letting her know that her letter had been “turned over to the State Department.”


Along with a group of other concerned citizens she’d networked with, Tennsion brainstormed how they could facilitate constructive change between the two countries as their own governments seemed clueless at best and reckless at worst. Together they decided it was time to “meet the enemy” and figure out for themselves how to build bridges.


Along the way, Tennsion details some of her strange encounters with various American spooks, including the CIA agent she happened to meet, seemingly by chance, through her job who unexpectedly expressed respect for the Soviet people’s resilience and acknowledged their historical suffering. He also had his own interesting take on the recent Korean airliner shot down by the Soviets right before her group was scheduled to go on their maiden voyage, making the undertaking all the more urgent as public condemnation and recriminations heated up.


Then there were the two female FBI agents she had to check in with after each trip to the Soviet Union and how one seemed to take a genuine interest in Tennison’s experiences with the Soviet people and began asking intelligent, open-minded questions…until she mysteriously disappeared from the FBI payroll.


Tennison admits that in the early days, she had no formal study of Russian/Soviet culture or history, which in a strange way, probably helped her to go in with fewer pre-conceived ideas. She let her experiences with the Soviet people she met on the streets – where her and other groupmembers handed out 3×5 cards introducing themselves and their purpose along with a phone number to reach them if they were interested – to guide her thinking.


“We increasingly found quality in the people—those we first chanced to run into in the streets or parks. They were intelligent and warm hearted, modest and surprisingly cultured. They were a magnet for us. We couldn’t understand how to connect the decaying society at large with these fascinating and deeply philosophical human beings who were trapped within it. They accepted much that we couldn’t have accepted—they had more patience, more endurance, and more willingness to hunt down what they needed for daily life than we could have mustered. And obviously they didn’t need nearly as many consumer goods as Americans were accustomed to. But it was their intellect that so took us by surprise, their love of languages even though they never expected to be able to travel, and their respect and enjoyment of the classical arts.


They had devised so many small ways to squeeze enjoyment out of their limited lives, and so many means to get around the system in which they lived. It seemed defeating the system in small ways or getting around it was accomplishment and pleasure in itself. ” (p. 77)


Some of the fruits of her and her colleagues work in the 1980’s included the launching of a travel program for Soviets to visit the US – a groundbreaking achievement since average Soviets were rarely if ever allowed to travel abroad at that point, the establishment of AA programs in the Soviet Union to address the scourge of alcoholism, and a business training program in which English speaking Soviets who were budding entrepreneurs were allowed to spend several weeks with small business owners in America to learn the basics of how to run a business from the ground up. The “graduates” of this program often went on to build successful businesses in Russia.


It is uncanny how Tennison and her colleagues often seemed to have fate on their side as logistical obstacles that got in their way would often be resolved in a timely fashion by the fortuitous appearance of someone who could help them out. Of course, these obstacles often took the form of money to finance a program that was needed to fill a newly realized gap or opportunity. Various philanthropists provided the funding, with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak being the most famous.


It is admitted that the programs of Gorbachev in the mid-to-late 1980’s often facilitated the opening needed to make Tennison’s programs work. However, she makes an interesting observation about the overall effect of all the rapid changes that took place during this time, which laid the groundwork for the tragic shellshock of the 1990’s, the effects of which the Russians are still trying to gradually overcome.


“They relished the relaxing of structures, opening up to foreigners, and being able to write the truth of what they felt to the newspapers….[But] my sense looking back is that this was too much change too quickly—too much catharsis for one generation to bear. And yet as the decade ended, the Soviets were careening toward yet another set of traumas in the 1990s that would exhaust their remaining coping mechanisms.


Their society was rapidly moving into profound political, economic, social and psychological chaos. Gorbachev unleased glasnost and perestroika (voicing and restructuring) but hadn’t factored in the degree of destabilization that both would bring about.” (p. 78)


During Tennison’s trips to the Soviet Union she also visited important formal “tourist” sites. One that stood out was a trip to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) where she visited the mass graves (186 pits) in which were buried about 500,000 Russians, including many who starved or froze to death during the nearly 3-year siege of Leningrad when the Nazis surrounded the city. Over 26 million Soviets perished and a good portion of their country was utterly destroyed during WWII. The experience of the visit was all the more jarring due to the fact that the sacrifices and suffering of the Soviets and their crucial role in defeating Hitler was hardly acknowledged in the West at that point.


JFK was one of the few to break this taboo in his June 1963 speech at American University at which time he was pursuing a negotiated end of the Cold War with Soviet Premier Khrushchev behind the scenes and was telegraphing a conciliatory message to the Soviets, which was warmly received throughout the USSR when Soviet authorities relaxed their normal jamming of Western broadcasts to allow Kennedy’s speech to be heard uncensored. (See my review of JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass)


The Lost Decade


The 1990’s saw a growing need for aid as Yeltsin ushered in an era of banditry under the guise of privatization that was overseen by American economic advisors. This period saw the disintegration of law and order along with the breakdown of institutions that provided essential products and services.


Tennison and her organization (which changed its name to the Center for Citizen Initiatives or CCI) marshaled money and other resources to help Russians in their network obtain food and other necessities, but also put in place programs to help Russians feed themselves via donation of seeds and education on sustainable urban gardening, rural agricultural revitalization, and vocational and entrepreneurial training for Russians to start small to medium sized businesses.


Rotary clubs throughout the US played a supportive logistical role in these US-Russia exchanges and programs. Meanwhile, funding was provided by private philanthropic entities as well as USAID and other government agencies. At one point, Tennison and her colleagues even found themselves advising US cabinet members on conditions in Russia and introducing key members of Congress to actual Russian individuals who were participants in their programs.


An Unusual Bureaucrat


One encounter Tennison had in 1991 that left an impression was with a bureaucrat in St. Petersburg who needed to evaluate one of CCI’s project proposals for approval.


“Entering the former palace through a small side door, Volodya Shestakov (friend and translator) and I found ourselves in a tiny unimpressive room. Behind the desk, sat a trim and seemingly reserved man of about forty years. After impersonal greetings, he began to ask specific questions: What was our proposal? Why? How would it work? Who would it benefit? Where would the money come from? Each additional question was related directly to the last answer given. Not accustomed to pragmatic questions from such people, I became aware of this bureaucrat’s impersonal focus.


By this time, I’d had my fill of Soviet public officials. They always had personal agendas….they wanted a trip to America, a trip for one of their relatives or friends “to see what you are describing in person.” Or they wanted to subsume CCI projects hoping to get some tangible benefits for themselves or their relatives….


After an hour of grilling, the information gathering was over. Everything that could have been known about our project had been questioned. Indications were that he was interested in our proposal. Now was the “traditional” time for him to assess what he could “get” for giving his official permission. He patiently explained that what we proposed was a really good idea but that, at that time, it wasn’t within legal boundaries. That was all.


I remember walking out the door and onto the sidewalk saying to Volodya, “At least we have been heard by one ex-Soviet bureaucrat who didn’t ask us for anything. ” (pp. 87-89)


At the time of Tennison’s observation to her Russian translator and friend, she had no way of knowing who this “non-descript” bureaucrat would go on to become, only that the business card he handed her bore the name of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.


At the time of Putin’s election as president of the Russian Federation in 2000, many of CCI’s alumni in St. Petersburg told Tennison that they had voted for Putin because he hadn’t charged them anything to register their businesses – a rarity among local-level bureaucrats throughout Russia.

Indeed corruption is still mostly a problem among local officials (90% of all corruption is estimated to be at the local level) throughout Russia as opposed to large institutions or the Russian people in general. Part of the reason it persists is due to the strong historical roots of getting essential things done via “connections” and the prestige associated with it rather than the rule of law as a foundation. This was the case in Czarist Russia as tributes were typically paid in the form of goods or money to officials as part of the feudalist system, which was gradually dismantled in the rest of Europe but persisted in Russia. Due to Russia’s sprawling geographic size and lack of a developed transportation system, interaction with the outside world and the attendant exposure to new ideas was hindered through the 19th century. Moreover, Russians’ relationship with governmental authority – their social contract, so to speak – had never been that of a citizen with rights or sovereignty but as subjects that were granted varying but limited amounts of social protection and decision-making within small local communities. (See also Deena Stryker’s review of the Russian Tradition by Tibor Szamuely at


This arrangement of deference to authority and reliance on “connections” to obtain necessities continued under the Soviet system with deference to authority demanded in exchange for security, stability and a degree of social protections. There was a class of people, for example, who played a role in procuring items of necessity in the Soviet Union, along with local Communist Party managers who lorded over their respective regions.


By the turn of the century, elite Communist Party bureaucrats (aka nomenklatura) had colluded with Western economic advisers in schemes to enrich themselves by taking possession of valuable state assets at fire sale prices and moving their ill-gotten wealth into off-shore accounts.


Along with this powerful class of oligarchs that came to control the Kremlin were the 89 regional governors throughout the Russian Federation who ruled their respective fiefdoms, enriching themselves through massive bribery. Lower on the food chain were local officials who earned paltry salaries and bilked new entrepreneurs for bribes in exchange for signing off on official documents as well as contriving inspections on charges of flimsy or non-existent violations, requiring the payment of additional bribes for clearance. (This is why the recently developed open electronic database containing the relevant details of all business inspections in Russia – as reported by TASS News Agency on October 8th – has potential significance in the fight against corruption. Time will tell.)


Tackling these systemic problems effectively without getting assassinated or overthrown in the process was a tall order for Putin in 2000, despite his ties to an intelligence community that had experienced its own internal divisions in the post-Soviet era.


In a late 2000 conversation with Oleg Plaxin, an aide to Putin’s economic advisor, Andrei Illarionov, Tennison was able to get an inkling of just what Putin was up against.


“This was my first glimpse into the tenseness of the Kremlin clans Putin inherited from Yeltsin. With no constituency, no political party to support him, no power to take out the clans, Putin was all alone – and from what became clear, the Kremlin environment, for the most part, was a den of self-serving vipers.


Later I asked Oleg Plaxin whom President Putin goes to for counsel. He looked at me in complete shock at the question and answered, “He can’t confide in anyone! If he did, it would be highly dangerous. They could betray him.” I was stunned considering what it would be like to try to take hold of an out-of-control country like Russia, to try to figure out a workable strategy in isolation, and to not trust anyone around you – how could any human being survive or govern in such an environment?


It became increasingly obvious to me why Putin began bringing St. Petersburg people to Moscow – they were dependable friends with whom he had gone to school and university, those whom he trusted during his early KGB years – in addition to those he worked closely with in St. Petersburg’s municipal offices, like Dmitri Medvedev.


World media called these new Putin appointees, the St. Petersburg “Chekists” [a pejorative for Soviet-era secret police].”   (p. 136)


Once Putin started to develop a governing system, he did begin to take gradual steps to counter corruption. After telling the oligarchs they had to start paying taxes and stay out of politics if they wanted to keep their spoils, he appointed a Russian entrepreneur named Alyona Nikolaeva as director of a government affiliated organization that began to explore approaches to the problem. Nikolaeva got the appointment after storming into Putin’s office in early 2001 demanding that his government do something about the bribery by local officials that was threatening her livelihood and that of others like her.


Conferences were subsequently held on the topic which some CCI alumni participated in. Attendees had a meeting with Putin representatives more than once, including one in 2004 with his economic advisor, Andrei Illarionov, in which they provided the results of their research and brainstorming on the issue – summarized in reports that were passed on to Putin who began using some of their points in addresses to the nation and parliament.


Media Distortions & Demonization


The onslaught of negative western media coverage, distortion and demonization of Russia and Putin began in earnest from 2003-2004 after Russia refused to participate in the Iraq war. Tennison had started to realize that what was often said in the Western media about Russia and Putin did not correspond to what she was seeing on the ground in Russia or hearing from the cross-section of Russians she dealt with.


She noted that much of what passed for reporting on Russia was largely opinion – often unfounded, distorted or unbalanced – being repeated ad nauseum until it was considered fact. She encountered journalists covering Russia who spent short stints in Moscow and asked loaded questions designed to elicit responses that fit into a pre-conceived negative framework. And when journalists did attempt to provide balanced or positive coverage of Russia or Putin’s policies, they often didn’t get accepted for publication by the journalist’s editors. One journalist even admitted to Tennison that her editors told her they wanted more pieces like those about Khodorkovsky whom the Western press had characterized as a “political dissident” and victim of an autocratic Putin.


However, the majority of Russians, including the small to medium business owners who busted their tails to create their enterprises, viewed Khodorkovsky as an arrogant predator who made himself billions through pilfering Russian assets. He then refused to give anything back via taxes and resented Putin’s moderate attempts to rein in him and his ilk – a class of oligarchs that had literally bought Yeltsin by 1996.   In short, Khodorkovsky represented the worst of Yeltsin’s decade of chaos and mass impoverishment for Russians.


Another point of contention that the U.S. used to heap criticism on Russia was legislation regulating foreign NGO’s that was first passed in 2006.


One of the most notorious types of NGO’s that the law was designed to target was the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the plethora of other NGO’s that NED supported in Russia, among other countries. Despite its innocuous sounding name, NED is funded by the US Congress and was established in the early 1980’s in response to congressional hearings, exemplified by the Church Committee, that exposed the CIA’s covert efforts to destabilize and overthrow foreign governments that were anathema to the US political elite. Rather than cease these unpopular – and often violent and illegal – covert operations, they were simply transferred to another organization that obscured these nefarious activities under the guise of building civil society and democracy. (See Trojan Horse: National Endowment for Democracy by William Blum at Even government officials who helped draft the legislation creating NED have admitted that NED now does much of what the CIA used to do in this arena.


Tennison’s comments on the context of this legislation follow:


“In 1938 the United States found it necessary to restrict foreigners whose intentions were to sway public opinion and policy in America. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was Congress’ response to the large number of German propaganda agents who were active in pre-World War II America. Our FARA legislation was updated as recently as 1995.


Like the United States, Russia is undeniably interested in limiting foreign influence in its domestic politics. Although their fears are discounted by the West, Putin and many Russians harbor deep concern that foreign and domestic NGOs may be fomenting a “color revolution” in Russia, as they suspect happened recently in the new states of Ukraine and Georgia.


The Kremlin is further challenged by Russia’s wealthy exiled oligarchs who have funneled a great deal of money to Russia’s NGOs in order to destabilize the Putin government. To date (2006), laws like FARA don’t exist in Russia.


In most countries, NGOs rely primarily on philanthropy from their own citizens; hence, their activities reflect the will of their own people. This is not so in Russia. Foreign and oligarch support in Russia has led to NGOs’ pursuing objectives contrary to those of the average Russian citizen and to the stability of the fragile new government. This wouldn’t go down well in any country.


To align NGO activities with citizens’ interests, the Putin administration needs to legislate tax incentives to encourage Russian support for NGOs, thereby creating a base for in-country private donations, not foreign or oligarch funding.


Russia’s not-for-profit sector is in serious need of regulation. It still hasn’t developed the legal underpinnings to assure transparency of expenditures, operations or funder information—all of which are crucial for societal trust and civil society development.


Russia is inching toward a democratic society, but it isn’t close yet. The country’s long history and harsh conditioning cannot be radically transformed in two short decades. Pushing Russian society and the Putin government faster than they can go at this juncture will incur consequences that serve neither Russia nor the West. Lecturing Russia to move farther and faster than they can will only backfire on us—and them. ” (pp. 198-199)


In sum, Tennison’s insights from working on the ground throughout Russia’s 11 time zones for over 30 years makes her a treasure that should be more wisely utilized by US policy makers and the media.


Now in her 70’s, she continues to visit Russia 3-4 times a year, having developed a deep respect and affection for that vast and fascinating land. On one of her future trips, I intend to join her and see it for myself.




Brzezinski’s Mad Imperial Strategy

“I once asked my colleague, (Zbigniew) Brzezinski, that if everyone was allied with us, who were we organized against? My question surprised him, because I think that Brzezinski remains caught up in Cold War strategy even after the demise of the Soviet Union. In Cold War thinking it was important to have the upper hand or else be at risk of being eliminated as a player. The importance of prevailing became all consuming, and this consuming drive survived the Soviet collapse. Prevailing over others is the only foreign policy that Washington knows.”

Paul Craig Roberts


Brzezinski was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1928 but his paternal family reportedly originated from Galicia, which was once considered eastern Poland but is now part of Ukraine.   His father was a Polish diplomat who served in Germany from 1931 to 1935 and then served in the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1938 in the midst of Stalin’s Great Purge.   He was stationed in Canada when both Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939.  Poland was later placed in the Soviet sphere of influence at the conclusion of WWII; hence, the Brzezinski family remained in Canada.


Brzezinski earned a Master’s Degree from McGill University in Montreal with a focus on the Soviet Union, followed by a PhD at Harvard with a focus on the Russian Revolution, and the leadership of Lenin and Stalin.  He became an academic at Harvard and then Columbia University where he taught and mentored Madeleine Albright.   He served as an advisor to the Kennedy presidential campaign and later supported Johnson.  He was a member of the State Department’s Council of Policy Planning from 1966 – 1968, then worked on Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign in 1968.  In 1973, he helped establish the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller.  Based on ideas Brzezinski spelled out in an article he published in Foreign Affairs in 1970, the Trilateral Commission was to be the organizational foundation of a club of developed nations that included Europe, Japan and the U.S. to balance world power away from the Soviet Union and China.  The club held annual meetings that included the elites of Europe, Japan, and the U.S., along with bigwigs in world trade, international banking and the establishment media.


Throughout the Cold War, Brzezinski supported a policy of engagement with Eastern Europe, including dissidents, believing that divisions within Eastern Europe would destabilize the Soviet Union and hasten its breakup along national lines.  He gave little to no support for any rapprochement with the Soviet Union and opposed Charles De Gaulle’s vision of a Eurasian project of “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.”


Brzezinski’s highest position of power was as National Security Advisor in the Carter administration.  Touted as the Democratic Party’s counterpoint to Henry Kissinger (and implicitly Kissinger’s détente approach toward the USSR), his aggressive anti-Russian views often clashed with those of Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, who was in the realist camp and opposed Brzezinski’s desire to strengthen ties to China while keeping the Soviet Union at a distance.  He and others in the administration argued that such “triangulation” could lead to dangerous and unnecessary perceptions of aggression toward the Soviet Union.


During his tenure, Brzezinski was the architect of the plan to goad the Soviet Union into its own “Vietnam” quagmire by arming and supporting Islamic mujahedeen against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan.  The plan, with the assistance of the Pakistan intelligence service, was put into place toward the end of Carter’s presidency and in 1979, the Soviet Union, in fact, responded as Brzezinski had hoped, embarking on a decade-long war in the nation that is not called the “graveyard of empires” for nothing.


When the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur interviewed Brzezinski in 1998, he admittedthat while he was national security advisor, he played a major role in setting the Afghanistan trap for the Soviet Union to get bogged down in a war.  He also reiterated that he had no regrets about the policy, underscoring the fact that he does indeed see the nations and peoples of the world as pieces on a strategic game board with no regard for the resulting death of thousands, demolition of a country or blowback toward his own adopted country.  A pertinent excerpt of the exchange follows:


Le Nouvel Observateur:  Former CIA director, Robert Gates, says in his memoirs:  the American secret services assisted Afghan mujahedeen six months before the Soviet invasion.  By that time, you were President Carter’s advisor and you played a key role on this.  Do you confirm it?


Brzezinski:  Yes.  According to the official version of the story, the CIA began to assist mujahedeen in the year 1980, that is, after the invasion of the Soviet army against Afghanistan on December 24, 1979.  But the truth that remained secret until today is quite different:  it was on July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed his first order on the secret assistance to Kabul’s pro-Soviet regime opponents.  That day I wrote a memorandum to the President in which I told him that that assistance would cause the Soviet intervention (…) we did not force the Russian intervention, we just, conscientiously, increased the intervention possibilities.


NO:  When the Soviets justified their intervention by affirming they were fighting against a secret American interference nobody believed them, though they were telling the truth.  Don’t you regret it?


B:  Regret what?  That secret operation was an excellent idea.  Its objective was to lead the Russian to the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it?  The very same day the Soviets crossed the Afghan border I wrote the following to President Carter:  “This is our chance to give Russia its Viet Nam.”


NO:  Aren’t you sorry either for favoring Islamic fundamentalism and providing weapons and consultancies to future terrorists?

B: What is the most important thing when you look at world history, the Taliban or the fall of the Soviet empire?  Some excited Islamists or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?


It is clear from the opening pages of The Grand Chessboard that Brzezinski is obsessed with imperialism and cannot conceive of a world that is not organized under empire – whether it is the competing regional empires of old or the rise of one global empire as reflected by the U.S. after the Soviet Union’s exit from the world stage.  He even repeats the common historical fallacy that “hegemony is as old as mankind.” If he had even a cursory familiarity with anthropology or pre-recorded history, he would know that throughout the vast majority of humanity’s experience, mankind lived in small, relatively egalitarian units of hunter-gatherers.  Empire and its attendant effects, such as hegemony, hierarchical social structure, and war only emerged around 10 – 13,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the widespread adoption of agricultural settlement.


Brzezinski’s Eurasian thesis appears to have been inspired by Nicholas Spykman’s Eurasian Rimland concept which was, in turn, built upon Halford Makinder’s Heartland Theory, first formulated in 1904.  Spykman’s Rimland emphasized the geostrategic importance of the densely populated coastal perimeter surrounding the Heartland of Eurasia.  Spykman justified focus on the Rimland instead of the Heartland by arguing that the Rimland contained the majority of the world’s people, a large swathe of its resources and an industrial base.  Additionally, it served as an entryway to the seas, situated as a buffer zone between the Heartland (source of land power) and sea power.  These two theories, like Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard are widely acknowledged to represent an imperialistic offensive posture dressed up as a defense strategy.


In The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski reiterates the factors cited by Spykman and Makinder:

About 75 percent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil.  Eurasia accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s GNP and about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.  (Grand Chessboard, p. 31)


He speaks throughout the book with a sense of entitlement on behalf of the U.S. that the American empire should never cede control of these resources to those living near them who may strangely assume a claim to benefit from them.


He emphasizes the following two steps to achieve his imperialist objective of preserving world domination by the U.S.:


1)  Identify states in Eurasia that have the power to shift the international distribution of power or to be catalysts for doing so; and,

2)  Formulate specific U.S. policies to offset, co-opt and/or control the above as to preserve and promote vital U.S. interests.

Brzezinski goes on to explain the role of Ukraine as a “pivot” state – in other words, a state that, if it remains under Russia’s sphere of influence, allows Russia to project power into the rest of Eurasia due its sea port, major resources and its role as a geographic defensive buffer – an important psychological factor for a nation that has been invaded from the west numerous times in its history.


It is clear that Brzezinski’s psyche is frozen in another era when his fellow Poles were under subjugation from the Soviet Union and his views are driven by an irrational antipathy toward Russia – irrational in the sense that it persists, despite what Russia actually is or does.


Flash forward to November of 2013 when the crisis in Ukraine started in earnest.  With a negotiated end to the Cold War, a dissolved USSR, a Russian Federation that was firmly on the road toward an evolving version of capitalism, expanded economic ties with the EU and cordial relations with Latin America and a lot of the developing world, Russia and most everyone else had moved on from the idea of Russia as big bad bogeyman.  But not an assortment of Russophobes in Washington, like Brzezinski, and those they influence.


Brzezinski influenced both Kerry and Obama, having served as a foreign policy advisor, along with his son, Mark Brzezinski, to the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign and then for the Obama 2008 campaign.  Although, it is difficult to determine if Brzezinski still plays an active role as advisor to Obama, it is interesting to observe how hawks among both major political parties took their cue from Brzezinski when he compared Putin to Hitler in a March 3, 2014 op-ed for the Washington Post. (Brzezinski, WaPo, 3/3/14).  Within the next two days, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Marco Rubio all repeated this absurd claim (Ernesto, Global Research – Brzezinski Mapped Out).  It can, therefore, be deduced that Brzezinski still wields considerable influence among the Washington elite.


He has also gone on numerous media outlets and given speeches this year advancing a false narrative that the crisis in Ukraine was due to Putin’s aggression.  In actuality, it started with a western-backed coup that toppled a democratically elected leader who rejected a European Association agreement that, as it turns out, would have forced austerity measures on a country that was already one of the poorest in Europe as well as threatened the holdings of native oligarchs by opening up Ukraine’s wealth and assets to Western corporations.  The agreement also contained language that would have laid the groundwork for NATO membership.   In reality, Putin’s maneuvering has been in reaction to this crisis on his border.


Brzezinski’s talking points echo what he said on media outlets about the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 – most of which turned out to be bologna.  He didn’t even identify the aggressors in the conflict correctly.  Either he is woefully misinformed (not very plausible) or he was lying on behalf of his anti-Russia agenda both then and now.


This kind of anachronistic and narrow thinking, based on the unresolved emotional wounds of one small segment of the American population who are émigrés or descended from émigrés of former Soviet bloc countries, along with a preoccupation with imperialism, is dangerous if it overtakes U.S. foreign policy, which it appears to have done considering Brzezinski’s influence in Washington and the current Ukraine crisis, which was fomented to goad Putin into a war and weaken Russia – a plan that, based on Brzezinski’s past antics, seems to have his strategic fingerprints all over it.


Additional Resources:


  1.  “Why War is Inevitable” by Paul Craig Roberts at
  2. “The Outrageous Strategy to Destroy Russia” by Arthur Lepic,

  1. Fry, Douglas, The Human Potential for Peace:  An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions About War and Violence.  Oxford University Press, 2000. 
  2. Zaemroaya, Mahdi Darius.  The Globalization of NATO.  Clarity Press, Inc., 2012. pp. 270-271


Our “Enemies” in Ukraine Speak – Documentary of Southeast Ukraine

This is an amateur documentary film regarding the events taking place in southeast Ukraine, covering mostly July of 2014.   It is important for Americans to inform themselves about what their government is supporting in their name and with their tax money.   Due to the current western media blackout with respect to the slaughter of civilians in southeastern Ukraine by the Kiev government, it is important to seek out independent attempts to provide documentary evidence.

Thank you to Eric Zuesse of OpEd News for bringing this documentary to my attention.

WARNING:  this documentary video contains some graphic images of dead bodies in the aftermath of shelling.




Review of “JFK and the Unspeakable” by James Douglass

“What kind of peace do I mean?  What kind of peace do we seek?  Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.  Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave.  I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable.  By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.

For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal.”

-John F. Kennedy, American University Commencement Address, June 10, 1963, (1)

At many points, this book reads like a political suspense novel – well paced with high stakes, but it was by no means a fun or easy read, mostly because the reader doesn’t have the psychological exit of fiction.

Robert Ellsberg of Orbis Books, who published JFK and the Unspeakable, passed on the manuscript at first because of both its length (over 500 pages) and its subject matter.  But changed his mind after getting positive feedback from several historians and analysts he’d passed it to.

Much of the book is based on intriguing sources such as declassified government documents obtained via the Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, including secret correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev from 1961 – 1963, transcripts of Kennedy’s secret recordings of his meetings with his Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCOS) and other national security advisors during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and KGB documents regarding Kennedy’s assassination that were unexpectedly handed over to President Clinton by Boris Yeltsin.

It is dense in terms of information and sources and it is also wrenching.  At times, I had to put the book down for a while because it was just too overwhelming, even for a reader who lost her naivete long ago about the U.S. political class in general and foreign policy in particular.

The book elicits a profound respect for the moral courage demonstrated by both President Kennedy and his Cold War counterpart, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, at moments when so much hung in the balance.  The bond these two men developed as a consequence of their taking humanity to the brink and the terror they both felt from looking into the abyss led to a mutual desire to negotiate an end to the Cold War and work toward disarmament.

It is a story of great promise that we all know ends in tragedy.   This book underscores both the promise and the tragedy of what might have been.

Although I find the assassination itself compelling and necessary to understand, I actually found the story of Kennedy’s turn from a Cold Warrior to an advocate of peace to be even more intriguing and will focus my review on that aspect of the book.

The Kennedy-Khrushchev-Castro Détente

Interestingly enough, Kennedy’s first impression of Premier Khrushchev during their meeting in Vienna in 1961 where they agreed upon a neutral government for Laos was unfavorable.  Reportedly, Khrushchev sat stone faced in response to Kennedy’s stated concerns about the human costs of a possible nuclear war between their respective nations.

Kennedy would be forced to revise that opinion when Khrushchev initiated a secret back channel correspondence with him in September of 1961 – a correspondence that the premier felt he had to keep hidden from the Kremlin and the Soviet military establishment due to hardliners in his government who would view such a project as alarming and weak.  Kennedy would eventually learn that the very same dynamics were going on in his own government.   By 1963, he would have to bypass his own State Department to continue his correspondence with Khrushchev.

Khrushchev’s first letter, which was 26 pages long, expressed regret at their inability to connect at the Vienna meeting, most likely due to distrust, which prevented them from working on more mutually beneficial goals.

The Premier likened their situation with “Noah’s Ark where both the ‘clean’ and the ‘unclean’ found sanctuary.  But regardless of who lists himself with the ‘clean’ and who is considered to be ‘unclean,’ they are all equally interested in one thing and that is that the Ark should successfully continue its cruise.  And we have no other alternative; either we should live in peace and cooperation so that the Ark maintains its buoyancy, or else it sinks.”

Kennedy responded with a lengthy and receptive letter of his own in which he agreed with Khrushchev’s analogy about their problem:  “I like very much your analogy of Noah’s Ark, with both the ‘clean’ and the ‘unclean’ determined that it stay afloat.  Whatever our differences, our collaboration to keep the peace is as urgent – if not more urgent – than our collaboration to win the last world war.”

Thus began a delicate but crucial exchange between sworn enemies in a mythical battle for the world.

By October of 1961, Khrushchev had intuited enough about Kennedy to suspect that the crisis at the Berlin Wall was brought about by elements of the U.S. government without Kennedy’s knowledge or approval.  When Kennedy became aware of the intense standoff between American and Soviet tanks at the Wall, he immediately utilized the back channel established with Khrushchev to work out a withdrawal plan.   This turn of events would prove prophetic in averting future crises.

The road toward peace the two leaders had embarked on, however, was littered with compromises and regressions.  Both leaders had to deal with hardliners in their respective governments and Kennedy had to make compromises and throw an occasional bone to the Cold War hawks around him.

In March of 1962, Kennedy made a statement during an interview with the Saturday Evening Post that “Khrushchev must not be certain that, where its vital interests are threatened, the United States will never strike first. In some circumstances, we might have to take the initiative.” Khrushchev interpreted this as a first-strike threat, which resulted in a Soviet military alert.  When Kennedy’s press secretary tried to reassure Khrushchev during a visit to Moscow a couple of months later, the leader was not convinced and began to reexamine his military position.   Placing missiles in Cuba would have the two-fold purpose of deterring the invasion of an ally and providing parity with the U.S. installation of nuclear missiles in Turkey which was on the USSR’s borders.

By October, a full-blown crisis had emerged that threatened a nuclear holocaust.

The best insight into President Kennedy’s reaction and concerns during the darkest moment of the Cuban Missile crisis, when Soviet ships were approaching Cuba and nuclear war seemed imminent, come from Robert Kennedy:  “His hand went up to his face and covered his mouth.  He opened and closed his fist.  His face seemed drawn, his eyes pained, almost gray.  We stared at each other across the table.  For a few fleeting seconds, it was almost as though no one else was there and he was no longer the president.” Robert goes on to explain that what most haunted the President was the fate of all the children who’d had no say in what was happening and would have no chance to grow up and make something of the world.

The miracle that ended the tension was Khrushchev’s order for Soviet ships to stop dead in the water before breaching the U.S. blockade, thereby providing more time for negotiation.   The crisis ended when, after a visit from Robert Kennedy to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin that included Kennedy’s message that the President’s military advisors were pressing for escalation and that things could spiral out of the President’s control, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles.  In exchange, Kennedy made a secret promise to remove U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey on the Soviet Union’s border.  Kennedy upheld his promise of removal of the missiles within six months and never gloated about Khrushchev’s “retreat.”

There is some debate about the extent of the spiraling threat that Robert Kennedy conveyed, but Nikita Khrushchev believed, as stated in his memoirs, that Kennedy feared the real possibility of a military overthrow.

When asked by journalist Norman Cousins in December of 1962 how it felt to have his finger so close to the nuclear trigger during the Missile Crisis, Khrushchev said:

“The Chinese say I was scared.  Of course I was scared.  It would have been insane not to have been scared.  I was frightened about what could happen to my country – or your country and all the other countries that would be devastated by a nuclear war.  If being frightened meant that I helped avert such insanity then I’m glad I was frightened.  One of the problems in the world today is that not enough people are sufficiently frightened by the danger of nuclear war.”

Despite the halting progress being made by Kennedy and Khrushchev, by 1963 they had reached an impasse on terms of a nuclear test ban treaty over the number of inspections that would be allowed.  The Soviets feared inspections were an opportunity for espionage and had reluctantly agreed to three.  The Kennedy administration soon realized that Congress would not approve any treaty that required less than eight.  Kennedy, however, sensed that most of the American public had drawn the same conclusion that he and Khrushchev had from the Cuban Missile Crisis, that of a need to turn toward peaceful co-existence, disarmament, and cooperation in whatever areas were possible.

As will be discussed later, Kennedy was becoming increasingly aware of numerous factions in his own government that would undermine his peace policies.  Partly in an effort to do an end run around these obstructionists, he enlisted advisor Theodore Sorenson to write an ambitious speech that would outline a vision of peaceful co-existence and disarmament.  That speech was his American University Address quoted above in which he insisted that peace was possible if broken down into manageable and concrete steps, acknowledged the shared humanity of the Soviet people despite political differences, and encouraged Americans to self-reflect on their own attitudes that could impede progress toward peace.

Kennedy had gotten word to the Soviets ahead of time that he would be giving a significant speech.  The Soviet Unions’ response to the speech was described as follows:

“The full text of the speech was published in the Soviet press.  Still more striking was the fact that it was heard as well as read throughout the USSR.  After fifteen years of almost uninterrupted jamming of Western broadcasts, by means of a network of over three thousand transmitters and at an annual cost of several hundred million dollars, the Soviets jammed only one paragraph of the speech when relayed by the Voice of America in Russian, then did not jam any of it upon rebroadcast – and then suddenly stopped jamming all Western broadcasts.  Equally suddenly they agreed in Vienna to the principle of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to make certain that Agency’s reactors were used for peaceful purposes.  And equally suddenly the outlook for some kind of test-ban agreement turned from hopeless to hopeful.”

Furthermore, “Khrushchev was deeply moved.  He told test-ban negotiator Averell Harriman that Kennedy had given ‘the greatest speech by any American President since Roosevelt.’” He proposed to Kennedy the consideration of a treaty that would ban nuclear testing in the air, space and water, obviating the need for inspections, as well as a non-aggression pact between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

In the U.S., however, the speech was largely ignored or greeted with skepticism.

Around this same time, Kennedy was contemplating a rapprochement with Castro in which he would acknowledge the revolution and Castro’s government in exchange for a promise to not sponsor any more revolutions in the western hemisphere.  Castro was prodded by Khrushchev to take the risk of trusting Kennedy enough to consider a dialogue with him.  A back channel of communication was being established by November in the form of Norman Cousins who, during a days-long interview of Castro, discussed with him the possibilities of a negotiated peace with Kennedy on November 19, 1963.  Castro’s response, after a several minutes of reflection, was incisive and prescient in terms of truly understanding Kennedy’s predicament:

“I believe Kennedy is sincere. I also believe that today the expression of this sincerity could have political significance…I haven’t forgotten that Kennedy centered his electoral campaign against Nixon on the theme of firmness toward Cuba.  I have not forgotten the Machiavellian tactics and the equivocation, the attempts at invasion, the pressures, the blackmail, the organization of counterrevolution, the blockade and, above everything, all the retaliatory measures which were imposed before, long before there was the pretext and alibi of Communism.  But I feel that he inherited a difficult situation; I don’t think a President of the United States is ever really free, and I believe Kennedy is at present feeling the impact of this lack of freedom.  I also believe he now understands the extent to which he has been misled, especially, for example, on Cuban reaction at the time of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion.”

Another peace emissary, Jean Daniel, was present a few days later when a stunned Castro received the news of Kennedy’s assassination and lamented: “Everything is changed.  Everything is going to change.”


Kennedy’s reluctance with respect to military engagement in Vietnam and his eventual desire to get out was rooted in an anti-colonialist streak, but even more by a trip to Vietnam he took with his brother Robert in 1951, during which they spoke to Edmund Gullion, an official at the U.S. Consulate.  Gullion told them:  “In twenty years there will be no more colonies.  We’re going nowhere out here.  The French have lost.  If we come in here and do the same thing, we will lose, too, for the same reason.  There’s no will or support for this kind of war back in Paris.  The homefront is lost.  The same thing would happen to us.”  Kennedy never forgot Gullion’s words, but he was in a conundrum as to how to prevent a deeper military engagement in light of his increasing understanding that such a view was further isolating him from the influential hardliners who wanted to escalate the Cold War at every opportunity, as well as a CIA that had no problem defying and undermining his orders, particularly after the Bay of Pigs incident in April of 1961 when the CIA realized they could not manipulate the president into an invasion of Cuba.  As pressure was mounting on the issue, Kennedy’s friend Larry Newman said he told him in October of 1963, “This war in Vietnam – it’s never off my mind, it haunts me day and night.”  By November, Kennedy told Malcom Kilduff that Vietnam was “not worth one more American life…After I come back from Texas, that’s going to change.” He said essentially the same thing to a few others, including Senator Mike Mansfield.  He documented his decision with National Security Action Memorandum 263, which called for pulling out 1,000 American servicemen from Vietnam by the end of 1963 and all of them by the end of 1965.

Cold War Mythology and the CIA

The creation of our current national security apparatus, including the CIA, can be traced back to the National Security Act (NSA) signed by President Harry Truman in 1947 designed to “contain” the Soviet Union, which Truman and his staunchly anti-Communist advisors had decided was going to be the next enemy after WWII.   Truman later lamented in a Washington Post piece after Kennedy’s assassination that the CIA had essentially turned into an unaccountable Frankenstein that it was never meant to be, explaining that it was only intended to be a source of intelligence gathering to enable the president to make informed decisions, and it was not meant to conduct covert operations.  Although this is somewhat disingenuous on Truman’s part as his Secretary of State George Marshall had warned him at the time of the potential unaccountability and abuse of the agencies being created by this legislation, stating that it especially granted the CIA powers that were “almost unlimited.”  The particularly egregious sentence cited by most critics of the NSA of 1947 is one that allows a president to direct the CIA to “perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security….”  (2)

Another point against Truman in the creation of the CIA Frankenstein and the Cold War mythology that allowed it to operate is that, as historian Peter Kuznick points out, had Truman not replaced Henry Wallace as FDR’s vice president, there’s a good chance there may not have been a Cold War as Truman, a political neophyte, overturned FDR’s more balanced approach to his Allied partners and took a more bellicose stance against the Soviet Union.  This likely could have been avoided if Truman had understood Soviet defense interests better or been willing to listen to advisors who did.  The Soviets had been invaded twice in thirty years and saw the death of over 20 million of its citizens and the devastation of much of its county in beating back the Nazis.  Both FDR and Wallace had a more nuanced understanding of the situation, but Truman refused to listen to Wallace’s views and instead went along with the extreme anti-Communist ideology of some of his other advisors. (3)

Perhaps Truman realized some of his mistakes in hindsight.

In any event, by the time Kennedy took office, the Cold War mentality and the reach and unaccountability of the CIA had risen to ominous levels.  It didn’t take Kennedy long to realize what he was dealing with.

According to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy told him:  “It’s a hell of a way to learn things, but I have learned one thing from this business – that is, that we will have to deal with the CIA…no one has dealt with the CIA.”  He had also commented to others that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”  Consequently, Kennedy signed National Security Action Memorandums 55 and 57 stripping the CIA of authority to conduct military type operations and affirming that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were the president’s principal military advisors during peace and wartime. He also forced director Allen Dulles, the deputy director and the deputy director general to resign.

By this time, military leaders and national security advisors had acquired an extremely militant stance and pressured Kennedy to escalate the Cold War numerous times.  These instances included a 1961 meeting in which the President walked out in disgust at suggestions of a nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis, transcripts reveal that he was constantly being pressured to bomb and invade Cuba with the potential catastrophic consequences dismissed.  In 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented him with the Operation Northwoods plan, which included potential false flag operations by the CIA intended to whip the American public into a frenzy to invade Cuba.  Calls for a nuclear first strike on the Soviets continued periodically, including one meeting where his advisors casually discussed the estimated deaths of 130 million Soviets and up to 30 million Americans from reprisals.  Kennedy somehow withstood the pressure and nixed all of these nefarious plans.

One has to wonder where this destructive, almost theological, belief system that infected the minds of our government’s military advisors and national security apparatus came from.  After World War II, a pathological mythology emerged, perhaps from being drunk on our victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that we were exceptional, that we were the white knights fighting to liberate the world from evil and the latest evil foe that must be vanquished regardless of the costs, was now Communism.  Unfortunately, this mythology was facilitated by a post-WWII president who was seduced by extremist advisors and refused wiser counsel.

This white knight mythology is perhaps best personified by James Angleton who oversaw a CIA assassination unit and rationalized his actions with an obsessive belief that we were “engaged in a battle of light against darkness.”

Moreover, to this way of thinking, a negotiated end to the Cold War represented surrender and any advocate of such was a traitor.

The Assassination and Cover-up

I won’t go into the labyrinthine story of Lee Harvey Oswald but other evidence very strongly suggests that Oswald could not have fired the fatal shot that blew out the back of Kennedy’s skull, which was the exit route of a bullet that entered through Kennedy’s throat.

The two most persuasive items indicating that Oswald was not the lone shooter (if a shooter at all) and the implementation of a cover-up are the issues surrounding the glaring lack of security for the president on that fateful day and the autopsy.  What follows is a quick and dirty summation of the most interesting points for this part of the book.

Lack of Security

In 1961, Kennedy hired the first African-American Secret Service Agent, Abraham Bolden.  Bolden quickly became aware of the dislike and outright hostility that other Agents harbored toward Kennedy, including churlish comments that they would “get out of the way” if he were shot at.  They also made it clear that they resented Kennedy bringing a “nigger” into their circle.  Bolden began to wonder if the Secret Service could be trusted to carry out its duties to the president.  When he received no satisfaction after reporting the issue to his superiors, he voluntarily returned to the Chicago branch office.

On the day of the assassination, other agents admitted that Emory Roberts, the Special Agent in Charge of the follow-up car, ordered them to stand down after Kennedy had been hit with the first shot.  One agent, Clint Hill, defied the order and can be seen racing to the trunk of Kennedy’s limo though it is too late to help him.

This leads to a plethora of questions:  1) why were the agents riding in the car behind the president where they would be able to provide no cover for him, 2) why were there no motorcycle escorts beside the president’s limo as was normal, 3) why was a dogleg turn forcing the open vehicle to slow well below mandated speed in an area where there were a multitude of hiding places for a potential assassin approved – especially, when an assassination plan with similar features was thwarted by the FBI in Chicago three weeks before, and 4) why were the Dallas Police Department and the local County Sheriff virtually missing in action in terms of providing security?

The answer is that the Secret Service was involved in all of these decisions.  Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry ordered his officers to terminate their supervision of Kennedy’s motorcade and the crowd one block short of the assassination site.  Years later, Curry explained that “The Dallas Police Department carefully carried out the security plans which were laid out by Mr. [Winston G.] Lawson, the Secret Service representative from Washington, DC.”

Furthermore, witnesses on the grassy knoll area reportedly saw several men who flashed what appeared to be Secret Service badges but did not act in a way that would be expected of such agents – for example, they did not run to assist the president after the shooting or cordon off a crime scene or take statements from potential witnesses.  Instead, they took any photographic or recorded evidence the witnesses may have had and then ran them off the area.

One of these witnesses was a Dallas police officer, Joe Marshall Smith, who reported smelling gunpowder in the area right after the shooting but was rebuffed by a man showing Secret Service credentials.  Smith learned later that there were no Secret Service agents stationed there and the men flashing such credentials were imposters.

A CIA memorandum released in 1973 stated that its Technical Services Division had furnished the Secret Service with security documents over the years, despite the fact that the Secret Service is part of the Treasury Department.

The Autopsy

Doctor Charles Crenshaw was one of the first doctors in the Trauma Room of Parkland Hospital and confirmed that he saw a bullet entry wound in the president’s throat.  He also confirmed that the right rear of the president’s brain was gone, which was also consistent with an entry wound from the front.

These facts were confirmed by 21 of the 22 medical staff present at Parkland that day, based on their original statements.  Many of the medical staff, however, either retracted their statements or did not press official contradictions to what they witnessed due to fear and intimidation.  One of the other doctors present that day, Malcolm Perry, changed his statement after being threatened by Secret Service agents.  One of those agents, Elmer Moore, admitted years later that “he had been ordered to tell Dr. Perry to change his testimony [acting] on orders from Washington and Mr. Kelly of the Secret Service headquarters.”

As Dr. Crenshaw later explained, after coming forward in 1992:  “I believe there was a common denominator in our silence – a fearful perception that to come forward with what we believed to be the medical truth would be asking for trouble…I was as afraid of the men in suits as I was of the men who had assassinated the President…I reasoned that anyone who would go so far as to eliminate the President of the United States would surely not hesitate to kill a doctor.”

After the doctors declared the president dead, the Secret Service took possession of the body.  Dallas Coroner Earl Rose attempted to stop them, citing Texas law requiring him to perform the autopsy, but the Secret Service insisted on taking the body and Naval Commander James Humes was placed in charge of the autopsy team at Bethesda Hospital.  One of his assistants, Lt. Col. Pierre Finck, testified that the autopsy was performed “in strict obedience to military commands” and was viewed by several members of the national security agencies.

A young hospital corpsman who also assisted, James Jenkins, confirmed the autopsy doctors obeyed military commands, including orders not to probe the throat wound.  “They could control Humes, Boswell, and Finck because they were military…I think they were controlled.  So were we.  We were all military, we could be controlled.  And if we weren’t controlled, we could be punished and that kept us away from the public.

“I was 19 or 20 years old, and all at once I understood that my country was not much better than a third world country.  From that point on in time, I have had no trust, no respect for the government.”

 Even J. Edgar Hoover seemed dismayed when he uncovered evidence that the FBI was being manipulated to cover up the truth of the assassination and commented to an associate:  “Everyone thinks I’m so powerful, but when it comes to the CIA, there’s nothing I can do.”

According to Lyndon Johnson’s taped conversations, the morning after the assassination he received two telephone briefings, first from CIA director John McCone and then from Hoover.  What Hoover told Johnson implicated deception by the CIA in terms of what McCone had just told him with respect to a key aspect of the assassination.  Apparently, Hoover decided to let the new president draw his own conclusions and make his own decisions about the situation.

In terms of a suspected whitewash by the Warren Commission, it is worth noting that Allen Dulles headed up the Commission.  Yes, that Allen Dulles – the cowboy head of the CIA that Kennedy had booted out.

The further one gets into the evidence, the more difficult it is to deny that the military and CIA’s dirty fingerprints seem to be all over the place.

As a source of comparison to another “authoritative” book about the assassination that came after the 1992 Records Act, I read Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, which was published a few years before this book.  It utilizes some of the same documentation to make the case of the same players’ involvement in JFK’s assassination:  the CIA, elements of the military, Cuban exiles and the Mafia who all had an axe to grind with both Kennedy brothers, with the latter two parties working frequently with the CIA in its Cold War machinations, including projects involving assassinations, gun running and coup attempts.  However, Waldron and Hartmann believe that the Mafia was the driving force behind the assassination and used the CIA and other government agencies to cover up the assassination due to their not wanting to reveal their latest Castro assassination plan known as the C-day Plan set for December 1, 1963, which they claim the Kennedys had approved.  But this contradicts information in Douglass’s book that Kennedy, as he told journalist Tad Szulc in late 1961, was “under great pressure from the Intelligence Community to have Castro killed, but that he himself violently opposed [political assassinations] on the grounds that for moral reasons the United States should never be party to political assassinations.”

There is also evidence that Kennedy worked behind the scenes in an unsuccessful attempt to save South Vietnamese President Diem and his brother from the assassination that the U.S. intelligence apparatus, along with rogue ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge (an appointment his brother Robert warned against and the president later regretted), had set in motion without his authorization.  When a telegram arrived in the middle of a White House meeting informing Kennedy that Diem and his brother had been murdered, though it was publicly called a suicide, General Maxwell Taylor described his reaction as follows: “Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face which I had never seen before.  He had always insisted that Diem must never suffer more than exile and had been led to believe or had persuaded himself that a change in government could be carried out without bloodshed.”  Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. concurred, “[Kennedy was] somber and shaken.”

It simply doesn’t make sense that a president who had such a visceral aversion to assassination would approve the C-Day Plan, especially when he had emissaries working behind the scenes to get Castro to negotiate a peace deal and with no reason to suspect that Castro would not ultimately be receptive.

It also strains credulity that the Mafia was powerful enough to manipulate the intelligence and national security apparatus of the United States to do its bidding – a case of the tail wagging the dog.  It is much more logical to assume that the relationship the Mafia had to the intelligence community in connection with JFK’s assassination was essentially the same as its past relationship in various projects – one of subordinate participation due to common interests, usually of a financial or strategic nature.

In my estimation, Douglass makes the best case of the two hefty books I’ve read and the documentaries I’ve watched, about which parties were likely responsible for John Kennedy’s assassination in terms of motive, means and opportunity.

I will close with the words of Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, on the implications of Kennedy being cut down in the autumn of 1963:  “I am convinced that if history had allowed them another six years, they would have brought the cold war to a close before the end of the 1960’s.  I say this with good reason, because in 1963 my father made an official announcement to a session of the USSR Defense Council that he intended to sharply reduce Soviet armed forces from 2.5 million men to half a million and to stop the production of tanks and other offensive weapons.

He thought that 200 to 300 intercontinental nuclear missiles made an attack on the Soviet Union impossible, while the money freed up by reducing the size of the army would be put to better use in agriculture and housing construction.

But fate decreed otherwise, and the window of opportunity, barely cracked open, closed at once.  In 1963 President Kennedy was killed, and a year later, my father was removed from power.  The cold war continued for another quarter of a century.”

Additional Resources

  1.  John Kennedy’s American University Commencement Address, June 10, 1963, available at
  2. “The Life and Times of the CIA” by Chalmers Johnson; TomDispatch, 7/24/2007.
  3. “How America Became an Empire” by Jim DiEugenio; Consortium News, 1/1/2013.






















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.




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










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:

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

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:

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:

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:

  • “Special Report:  How the U.S. Made its Putin Problem Worse” by David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed, Reuters.  4/19/2014.
  • “The Red Line and the Rat Line” by Seymour Hersh, London Review of Books.  4/17/2014.
  • “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis” by Robert Parry, Consortium News.  3/2/2014.
  • Leaked Phone Conversation Between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt Discussing Ukraine.
  • “Trying Not to Give Peace a Chance” by Ray McGovern, Consortium News.  4/20/2014.
  • “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.
  • *Bonus:  “Needed:  Obama-Putin Summit on Ukraine” Memorandum to President Obama signed by numerous veteran intelligence professionals, dated 5/4/2014.  Consortium News.