Reversal of Fortune: How the United States is Repeating the Mistakes that Destroyed the Soviet Union by Martin Sieff

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Reversal of Fortune: How the United States is Repeating the Mistakes that Destroyed the Soviet Union by Martin Sieff
Published 24-08-2012, 04:26

In his incisive article "Reversal of Fortune: How the United States is Repeating the Mistakes that Destroyed the Soviet Union”, Martin Sieff, Chief Global Analyst for The Globalist, and Senior Fellow of the American University in Moscow succinctly identifies the causes of much of what is wrong in today’s world.

To summarize:

The democracies’ victory in the Cold War – an epic conflict in which conservative Western powers successfully resisted and then rolled back the Soviet exporter of revolutions – has not ushered in global stability and peace. Dizzy from its own success, the United States soon embarked on a campaign to export its brand of democracy to the rest of the world. Spurred on by neo-conservative ideologues, several of whom, incidentally started out as left-wing Trotskyites, and with passions inflamed by the events of 9/11, Washington has promptly blundered into the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Its eagerness to topple the Arab regimes, with scant regard for the consequences, is the most recent manifestation of this urge to remake the world according to the US template.

The most formidable force standing in the way are Russia and China. Having suffered from the consequences of communism, these formerrevolution-promoting superpowers have eagerly embraced the capitalist pragmatism of their former Western foes. They crave peace and stability, which they see as the prerequisite for economic development, and have opted to place democracy on the back burner in pursuit of those two goals. In Sieff’s words: "They support and want to do business with existing governments and governing systems around the world. This has made them the 21st century’s major global powers of the new Right.” Indeed, it is this – and not an imaginary ideology-driven "Autocracy International”, as the neocons would have it – that has underpinned Russia and China’s scepticism about Western "democracy promotion” in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The logical conclusion of Martin Seiff’s analysis is that an over-extended and idealistic US is courting the fate of the former Communist superpowers. Thus it is in its best interest to call off the campaign and cooperate with what he calls the "new conservatives”, not only for mutual benefit but for the common good.
Is Martin Sieff’s interpretation sound? And is the conflict that he identifies the reason why Mitt Romney has described Russia as America’s "enemy number one”? Indeed, since Russia’s President Putin is the most vocal high-ranking opponent of US’s "democracy drive”, does that explain the intensity and persistence of his being demonized in the West?

Could it not be argued that Russia and China’s support for "stability” is in reality a ploy by rapacious elites to cling to their ill-gotten assets – not least, in the case of the Russia, in the face ofrecently growing opposition to the regime?

Given the growing global weight of the Chinese economy and the critical geopolitical role of the Russian Federation in Eurasia, should the West not support Russia and China’s efforts to maintain domestic stability?

Alternatively, as the neocons argue, is the promotion of democracy in Russia and China the route to "genuine” stability? If yes, can this be the case even if we accept that Western democracy ismanifestly failing to deliver economic stability and prosperity?
The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Vlad Sobell, Expert Discussion Panel Editor (New York University, Prague)  

Experts Panel Contributions
Napoleon, the Neocons and New Russia: A View from Moscow
W. George Krasnow,
Russian American Goodwill Association

Martin Sieff’s article is remarkable for its conceptual audacity and broad historical sweep. I am intrigued by his claim that "The efforts of the French Revolutionaries and Napoleon to export liberty, equality and brotherhood across Europe by fire and sword instead ensured the survival of the old traditional empires for another 120 years.”

Right now Russia is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Borodino Battle, the turning point of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. The Russians are proud that, in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, Russian troops liberated much of Europe, marched to Paris and then helped the British, Austrians, and Prussians defeat him in 1815 at Waterloo. Indeed, didn’t the "backward Asiatic” Russia save "progressive” Europe from its own virus of revolutionary violence?

On Sunday September 9th a commemorative service was held in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior downtown Moscow. The place itself is laden with historical symbolism. Originally built to commemorate Russian victory over "godless” Napoleon, in 1930 the Cathedral was blown up on Stalin’s order. It was part of anti-religious drive but Soviet leaders also wanted to remind the world that the objectives of the October 1917 revolution included the fulfillment the French Revolution’s ideals of "liberty, equality, and brotherhood.”

Sieff’s analogy between Napoleon’s efforts to spread noble ideas by bloody wars and current US drive to impose democracy on the rest of the world is right on target. Ultimately, it’s the old question about Ends & Means. Soviet Communists, like the French revolutionaries and Napoleon before them, discredited their own "noble goals”—be it equality or social justice—by using violent means to advance them worldwide. Worse, they stunted social progress in Russia (and, to a limited extent, in East and Central Europe) and by some 120 years.

Today, writes Martin Sieff, "the roles of the two great powers [the USSR and US] have been reversed. Since the advent of Madeleine Albright as secretary of state in 1997, the United States has becomeideologically committed to the spreading of "instant powdered democracy”…”. Now the US is using violent and deceptive means to attain ostensibly righteous goals.

However, stating that US foreign policy has been guided since 1997 by the Neocons, Sieff needs to make clear, that, even though several Neocons had a leftist Trotskyite background, they are beholden not to Trotsky’s Marxist goals, but his strategy of permanent global violence to attain fundamentally different ends.

These were first formulated in "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, a 1996 paper produced by a group led by Richard Perle and proffered to Benjamin Netanyahu as a plan to assure Israel’s dominance in the Middle East. The paper’s ideas were later incorporated in the Project for the New American Century which has been influencing US government officials of both parties.

As John Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy made clear, the Neocons have reshaped US strategy from "containment” during the Cold War to current aggression in the name of democracy. No matter how justified or righteous, their goals are compromised by the violent and deceptive means used to attain them. They hardly reflect the will of a majority in Israel or the US.

The Neocon ideas are a travesty of conservatism. The Neocons conned the governments in Israel and the US to believe that "war on terror” is in the best interest of these countries. A true conservative would never have launched a crusade for one form of government or another, for each form tends to degenerate, as already Plato and Aristotle understood.

Edmund Burke, a British politician and father of modern conservatism, abhorred the atheistic French Revolution as much as he admired the pragmatic American Revolution. In his 1790 work Reflections on the Revolution in France he predicted that the French Revolution would lead to tyranny. But he appealed to the King to affirm the right of American colonies to form an independent republic. Burke’s statuenow graces Washington DC. It ought to inspire all Americans to follow his brand of compassionate conservatism as the core of the US mission to the world. Better still, let them hear George Washington’s own injunction against the Republic ever meddling in the affairs of other states.

Meanwhile, Russia stands guard as insurance for next Western folly. Together with China, she provides checks and balances on the hubris of the US government and its NATO allies.

Edward Lozansky,
President, American University in Moscow,
Professor of World Politics, Moscow State University 

Martin Sieff wrote this article before the horrific anti-American rage began this week and quickly spread to nearly 20 countries including so-called Arab Spring revolution states. Martin and other like minded experts repeatedly warned that Washington’s absolute and unquestionable dedication to the worldwide democracy promotion crusade in general, and the toppling of the dictatorial Arab regimes in particular with scant regard for the consequences, is extremely dangerous not only to the world stability but to the security of the United States and its allies.

Ironically, the same countries which were liberated from their dictators with US political, military, economic, and not least, moral help are now killing US diplomats, burning American flags and destroying US embassy compounds. Most likely they are using the same RPG and heavy machine guns that have been delivered there by the United States and NATO.

It is obvious that the film in question can only partially be blamed for sparking this vandalism. Sooner or later the America-haters would find another reason to do the same or worse.

It is worth noting that Russia has long argued that the West should not support popular uprisings against dictatorships in the Middle East, lest Islamic fundamentalists take hold. Both President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov strongly condemned the attack reiterating the necessity of combining forces to fight the evil of terrorism.

Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute of the Middle East in Moscow, was less diplomatic, repeating more or less Martin Sieff’s line: "You are the Soviet Union now, guys, and you pay the price," he said. "You are trying to distribute democracy the way we tried to distribute socialism. You do it the Western way. They hate both."

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, agreed saying that the recent anti-US violence had been at the heart of Russia's warnings. He said Russia had formulated a "post-Communist position: If you try to impose anything on others, as the Soviet Union tried to do, the result will be the opposite, and disastrous."

As usual the difficult question is what to do next? At this moment Washington is obviously considering several damage control options, one of them sending US warships to the Libyan coast. This might help to calm things down but it would not amount to a credible response from the long-term point of view. Frankly, I do not think such a response is now possible, as the train has left the station, the war of civilizations has already started and there is no visible force around to stop it. One can only try to slow it down.

On a more limited scale one thing which can be done is to use this crisis to launch another attempt to revive the anti-terrorist coalition including the US/NATO, Russia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Let us recall that almost immediately after 9/11 President Bush sent his representative Richard Armitage to Moscow with long shopping list of things America wanted Russia to do to help in the upcoming war in Afghanistan. Putin delivered 100% from this list against, as some sources say, the advice of his generals. This help made a substantial contribution to the swift defeat of the Taliban, thus saving many American lives and marking a high point in US – Russia relations. Both, government officials and many members of congress praised Putin afterwards calling Russia the US’s "natural ally”.

Unfortunately, this goodwill quickly dissipated due to the most ungrateful Bush’s policies, such as canceling the ABM treaty, expanding NATO to the east, and yes, the same disastrous messianic democracy promotion agenda which resembled the Soviet policy of exporting communist revolution.

Whoever wins the presidential elections in November should immediately sit down with Putin and try to revive the positive sentiment of 2001 by agreeing a mutually beneficial cooperation agenda. Regardless of what the western media, politicians and experts say, modern Russia with all its deficiencies and problems is certainly not a dictatorship and, most importantly, is not America’s "enemy number one”, number ten or even number one hundred. On the contrary, Russia is willing to become America’s ally and it is high time for Washington to reconsider its ill-conceived policy of rejecting the extended Russian hand. 


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