US Foreign Policy Goes Retro

Progressives have saddled themselves with a theory of history that sees the "march of progress" as an ever upwardly-bound journey to political perfection: thus the appellation "progressive," as in "things are getting progressively better." Yet history – real history, that is – lacks any such teleological plan or direction. It is characterized, instead, by ups and downs, golden ages and dark ages: the golden age of Greece and Rome was followed by centuries of ignorance and retrogression that we call – not without reason – the Dark Ages. And while this characterization is meant to define the state of a culture in general – its mores, its level of technology, etc. – we can apply it to any field of human endeavor: e.g. the "golden age" of invention, the "dark age" of political repression signaled by the Alien and Sedition Acts – and also to the realm of foreign policy, where periods of relative peace are interrupted by periodic wars of aggression.

History, in other words, sometimes runs "backwards," and we are entering such a period today in our relations with Russia.

During the first cold war, Russia and the United States were engaged in a worldwide conflict which the two nuclear-armed protagonists fought via proxies, avoiding direct encounters but keeping up a constant assault on the other side’s positions. The Soviets – having basically abandoned their ostensibly revolutionary aims and retreated to the Stalinist revision of Marxist orthodoxy embodied in the concept of "socialism in one country" – pursued a mainly defensive strategy: the Americans, while supposedly set on "containment," often went beyond this and in several instances attempted to roll back Communist gains in what we used to call the Third World, e.g. Vietnam, Chile, and the various unsuccessful attempts to drive Fidel Castro from power.

In the end, the Soviets defeated themselves: their foray into Afghanistan, made in order to prop up a vastly unpopular "People’s Republic," exposed their vaunted military might as a paper tiger, to use Mao’s famous phrase. The demoralization brought on by that defeat combined with an unworkable economic system eventually brought down the Communist colossus – which, in the end, proved to be hollow.

Until the Great Soviet Implosion of 1989, however, that colossus looked pretty … well, colossal. Right up until the day the Berlin Wall fell, our "intelligence" agencies had no clue as to the huge cracks that were appearing – and widening – in the structure of the Red Empire. Taken by surprise, and fearful of any sort of "instability," the US administration of George Herbert Walker Bush tried to hold back the tide of anti-Communism that swept through eastern Europe like a tsunami, albeit to no avail.

As East Germany collapsed, and the other satellites followed suit, US diplomats assured Mikhail Gorbachev that the West would not pursue their advantage by pushing NATO to the gates of Moscow. So Gorby let Germany and the satellites go, reassured that the Russian homeland was safe.

Except it wasn’t.

The informal agreements reached during that time of upheaval – and wise agreements they were, for they avoided a nuclear confrontation between the superpowers – were soon forgotten. Although not by the Russians.

For a while, there was amity between the victors and the vanquished – as long as Boris Yeltsin, the incompetent drunkard, stayed at the helm in the Kremlin. While the oligarchs grabbed what they could, looting state-owned industries by means of dubious no-bid "privatization" schemes, Yeltsin took his orders from Washington – and the "golden age" of Russo-American relations was on.

It was only when Vladimir Putin rose to power and clearly showed he was no Yeltsin that relations began to darken. US companies licking their chops over Russia’s vast stores of energy and other resources were rudely rebuffed – and, if that wasn’t bad enough, Putin became a critic of US foreign policy as NATO inched closer to Russia’s borders, in violation of the understanding previously reached with Gorbachev.

The Kosovo war and Bill Clinton’s inordinate interest in the steppes of Central Asia as a source of US corporate profits further heightened tensions: us oldsters recall the threat of Gen. Wesley Clark to attack Russian troops at the Pristina airport, which might have started World War III. The knives really came out in the run up to the Iraq war when the Russian leader openly opposed the war plans of George W. Bush’s neocon-infested administration – and the latter demanded Russia be kicked out of the G-8 as punishment for Putin’s lèse-majesté.

Under Obama, relations with Russia have reached a new low point. We’re supposed to believe this is due to Putin’s alleged "relapse" into authoritarianism, but Russia today is substantially freer than it was under the Soviets – and no country on earth has come up from Communism straight to Jeffersonian republicanism.

No, the reason for the retrogression of US-Russian relations has more to do with an aggressive American agenda that aims at regime change in Russia’s "near abroad" – and in Russia itself.

Ukraine has become the flashpoint of this campaign, where American-backed "pro-democracy" groups – in alliance with openly neo-fascist elements – overthrew an elected President and declared war on "separatists" in the eastern provinces who wanted nothing to do with the coup leaders. That vicious war, which features air strikes on "separatist" population centers, has claimed nearly 5,000 lives up to this point. The US media has taken note of this only to illustrate the supposed innocence of the Kiev authorities – but groups such as Human Rights Watch have had to point out that the use of cluster bombs by government forces, as well as alleged violations by the rebels, fly in the face of international law (as well as the basic rules of human decency).

Cold War II is now in full swing, and on the home front this means a wave of Russophobia not seen since the days of the Cuban missile crisis. US officials decry the Russian state-owned propaganda channel, "Russia Today," as a "propaganda bullhorn." That the privately-owned US media willingly acts as Washington’s own propaganda bullhorn is something we aren’t supposed to notice. Not only that, but a Russian spy scare is all the rage, replete with McCarthy era hysterics in government and media circles. The latest is the story of a Russian "spy" operation supposedly working out of that nexus of top secret US security installations otherwise known as the Bronx.

Early Monday the FBI tweeted this:

"Just in: FBI arrests Russian spy in the Bronx who was part of ring attempting to collect economic intelligence & recruit #NYC residents."

So, was the Red Army about to invade Times Square? Well, not exactly. If you read the official complaint, it’s more like the antics of Boris and Natasha from the cold war era "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" than the real life underground network inhabited by Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Indeed, if anything, the activities of the three accused "spies" point to their utter incompetence rather than any real threat to US security interests. According to the complaint, the "recruiting" of New York City residents to this supposed spy ring amounted to musings by the accused about the possibilities of approaching unnamed New York University co-eds in order to gain access to unknown "information," with the three winding up rejecting the proposal on the grounds that one has to "f—k them" in order to get close enough to gain access. As to what national security secrets these ladies have hidden in their purses, it is apparently too sensitive – or too minor – to be detailed.

Another "crime" – the three were apparently using Google to research US "efforts to develop alternative energy" sources, with the goal of sending the results of their research back to their superiors in Russia. As to whether the American Republic would survive such an obviously subversive operation as spying on our windmills, I leave it to my readers to decide.

We leave the realm of low comedy with the "charge" that the three worked in tandem with a "Russian media organization," a.k.a. Russia Today, in order to plant questions at news conferences. The charges describe instructions given by Moscow to make inquiries as to the workings of the US Stock Exchange – particularly automated buying programs that might have a deleterious effect on Russian bonds and other financial instruments. This is clearly an attempt to put teeth into John Kerry’s denunciation of the Russian network and pave the way for banning it from the US. And yes, of course, they hate us for our freedom….

Last but not least we have the FBI’s tried and true method of entrapment, their favorite ploy when it comes to uncovering potential "terrorists" who live in their parents’ basement – only in this case it was a bunch of hapless "spies" who had no idea what they were doing. This is perhaps the funniest episode of this cold war remake: the trusting "Zhenya," whose "cover" is working for a Russian bank, is approached by a FBI informant who supposedly wants to build casinos in Russia. His superior derides the proposal as "bullshit," and speculates it may well be a "trap," but Zhenya falls for it and goes to a meeting in Atlantic City where the trap snaps shut. His interlocutor, "CS-1," asks him if he’d be interested in receiving "US government documents" detailing plans for further sanctions against Russia. Zhenya says yes, takes the documents, and goes straight to his superior’s house to deliver the goods – with the FBI watching and recording his every move.

Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale were professionals by comparison.

Indeed, my theory is that the FBI pursued this case in order to show up and publicize the sheer witlessness of the Russian "spy" operation in the US, and in that they certainly succeeded. What they did not succeed in doing was to show how any of this represents a danger to American national security – or why US law enforcement is picking this kind of very low-hanging fruit.

Although, as far as the latter is concerned, I’ll tell you why: because we’re back in the 1950s, with the Russians in the role of Official Bad Guys and the FBI – in league with their best friends in the "mainstream" media – hyping the Russian Threat.

It’s garbage of the worst sort, just like the accusations of "Russian aggression" in Ukraine and elsewhere – and of course our complicit media, which worships at the shrine of "access," is all too eager to take their cues from Washington.

Yes, foreign countries – including some of our supposed "allies" – do indeed engage in espionage on American soil, but the Russians are far from the worst offenders. According to the intelligence community, our Very Best Friend, Israel, is the most aggressive when it comes to industrial espionage of the sort the Russians stand accused of – but you don’t hear anything about that in the media, do you? And it isn’t just stealing economic trade secrets the Israelis are heavily involved in – which is one reason why efforts to ease visa restrictions on Israeli visitors are being blocked by US officials – but also more serious stuff like this.

What happened in the case of the Bronx "spy ring" is that US officials are presently engaged in a propaganda campaign aimed at the Kremlin, and this operation is part of it. The response of the informed public should be nothing less than a good old fashioned Bronx "cheer."


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].