The Evil Empire Revisited

In George Orwell’s 1984 there is a memorable scene when the speaker from Oceania’s Ministry of Truth is addressing a rally, the culmination of Hate Week against the enemy, Eurasia. He receives a message mid-sentence, then smoothly shifts gears to deliver the remainder of his speech excoriating Eastasia. The crowd responds enthusiastically, and the narrator, Winston, notes that, of course, Eastasia had always been the enemy.

The alliances in Orwell’s nightmare world had shifted, but the concept of the enemy remained the same. There always has to be an enemy. So too the neoconservatives always need an enemy to justify the huge defense contracts that in turn spawn the think tanks and academic chairs in security studies that provide them with their sinecures. A world without “Islamofascism” or another enemy lurking is a world without employment for the likes of Bill Kristol and John Bolton.

Post-1992 Russia has given every indication that it desires to be a friend to the United States and that it has no desire to recreate the Cold War. It allowed itself to be looted by the oligarchs, who presented themselves as the bearers of Western-style modernization with hardly a complaint. It saw its place in the world shrink and its voice in international fora diminished. President George W. Bush even famously looked Russian Premier Vladimir Putin in the eye in Crawford, Texas, in June 2001 and announced positively that he had gotten a “sense of his soul.” But the neoconservatives were never on board the Russian project. Their reading on Russia was that it was and always will be the enemy. They would argue that Bush misjudged his guest and Russia was even then preparing to rebuild its empire.

The Great Decider is making up for his slip of the tongue now, threatening Russia even though it was on the receiving end of a foolish invasion launched by America’s ally Georgia. But now it is a much diminished U.S. that has no options in the Caucasus. In speaking forcefully on an issue that he cannot influence, Bush is again the engineer of a foreign policy train wreck, a disaster potentially much more dangerous than Iraq. The White House is inexplicably, and in support of no national interest of the United States, creating an enemy where one did not exist, an enemy, one might add, that is equipped with a nuclear arsenal and state-of-the art ballistic missiles that could destroy both the United States and Western Europe.

One might reasonably argue that the current international situation threatens a reversion to the uncertainty that prevailed during the Cold War. Over the past several years the White House has done everything possible to turn a possible friend into an enemy who is now clearly convinced that there is no dealing with Washington on any kind of rational level. From the Russian point of view, there has been nothing but provocation from the Bush administration, starting with its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in December 2001 so that it could push forward with an unneeded missile defense system that mostly benefits defense contractors and their neocon friends. More recently, the White House supported the creation of an independent Kosovo without any serious attempt to address Russian concerns. And there is even worse coming from Bush heir presumptive Sen. John McCain, who has declared that “We are all Georgians,” presumably meaning that we have all been attacked by Russia. McCain is advised exclusively by neoconservatives on foreign policy, one of whom has received more than $1 million to lobby for Georgia. McCain has called for expelling Moscow from the G-8 and blocking its entry into the World Trade Organization, the type of economic isolation that was routinely employed against the Soviet Union. Russia hears nothing good coming out of the United States.

The United States government and people have a great deal of difficulty in seeing themselves as others see them, perhaps an unfortunate downside to American exceptionalism. What most non-Americans, including the Russians, have seen over the past seven years is a frequently corrupt and sometimes criminal regime in Washington that has twisted the truth, invaded some countries while bullying many others, and made the world a much more dangerous and unstable place than it was prior to 9/11. Can there be a more unsettling sight than either Bush or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smugly lecturing the world on how it should behave? There is no upside for Washington in confronting Moscow. How Russia elects its leaders and governs itself is not America’s concern, particularly as Vladimir Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev enjoy overwhelming support from their own people.

Regarding Russia, the Bush administration has advanced two broad policies that are quite frankly incomprehensible. Together they do little for the national security of the United States and do a great deal to make the Russians nervous. First is the expansion of NATO. NATO is a military alliance that no longer has any meaning. It was created to restrain the Soviet Union through the threat of military force, a raison d’être that has not applied since 1992, which is why a reluctant NATO, searching for a new role, bombed Serbia in 1999 and is currently in Afghanistan supporting overstretched U.S. forces. Washington has attempted to obfuscate the question whether NATO should exist at all by arguing that the role of the alliance has changed, that it is no longer directed against Russia and is instead a source of stability for both Eastern and Western Europe, bringing newly democratized nations into the fold in a stable and sustainable fashion by integrating them into a purely defensive military structure where armies are answerable to the people. Using that rationale, NATO has incorporated Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – all former parts of the Soviet Union – as well as Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Albania, and Bulgaria. It has also discussed adding Ukraine and Georgia, both of which border Russia and were also part of the old Soviet Union.

But Moscow doesn’t buy that argument, first of all because it doesn’t understand why a military alliance should be used as the instrument for what is essentially economic integration, which could be managed by the United States and European Union working together in more appropriate settings. Russia is also keenly aware of the political agenda linked to the NATO expansion. The United States and some Europeans have supported the various pastel revolutions that have swept across Eastern Europe. This support has been both overt and covert, but it always has one objective: to replace pro-Russian parties and regimes with “democratic” alternatives that are more closely aligned with the West. That the new regimes are frequently virtually indistinguishable from the ones they replace in terms of corruption, inefficiency, and failure to govern by the rule of law appears to be irrelevant. The Russians, nervous about their own security, have watched this advance of governments unfriendly to them and their vital interests. Is there any national interest reason why the United States should support the “democratization” of Eastern Europe? The short answer is “no.” Russia, as an energy giant and a major player on the world stage, is the only country in Eastern Europe that should truly matter to the United States, and our objective should be to establish the best possible relationship. The willy-nilly NATO expansion policies in place do little more than heighten the sense of threat in Moscow, converting a strategically important country from a competitor into an enemy.

And then there is threat of the Iranian missiles that do not exist, might never exist, and could not threaten either Europe or the United States in the foreseeable future. To counter those weapons, the U.S. will install “defensive” missiles in Poland, with a radar station in the Czech Republic. Both Warsaw and Prague have been heavily bribed and pressured to accept the deployments, which are opposed by both the Czech and Polish people and most other Europeans. The missiles serve no useful purpose against Tehran but could be used against Russia. Anyone who is interested in missile technology and its capabilities knows that “defensive” and “offensive” are meaningless terms, as the weapons can be deployed in roles that support either function. So why does Washington persist in demanding that an unwanted weapons system that has no purpose but to create fear in Moscow be put into operation? Perhaps Bill Kristol and John Bolton can provide an answer. But the end result will quite likely be Cold War II, huge new defense contracts, and more fear-mongering talking points for the neocons.

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Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.