Thursday, May 22, 2008

The New Cold War: A Challenge to America*
Prof. Paul Eidelberg

Edward Lucas’s book, The New Cold War (2008), is must reading, especially for Americans wondering about whom to vote for in the November presidential election.

The subtitle of Lucas’s book is How the Kremlin Menaces both Russia and the West. The book has been endorsed by former prime minister of Estonia Mart Laar. Vladimir Bukovsky, a former Soviet dissident, also endorsed the book. Bukovsky warns that former KGB operator, Vladimir Putin, who came to power in 1999, is attempting to “restore the Soviet Empire.” Twice elected president, Putin is now Russia’s prime minister.

Lucas points out, however, that under Putin Russia “has dropped three Soviet attributes from its foreign policy: a messianic ideology [i.e., communism], raw military power and the imperative of territorial expansion.” This makes the Russian threat less visible but more dangerous.

Despite some democratic reforms in post-Soviet Russia, authoritarianism and Russian nationalism are steadily and cunningly resurgent. Russia, says Lucas, “has adopted the trappings of a Western system—laws, elections and private property, to conceal a lawless, brutal and greedy reality… It uses the Soviet Union’s most powerful legacy, the monopoly hold on gas and oil pipelines running from east to west, to blackmail and bribe its frontier satellite countries.” Lucas provides some startling data:

Bulgaria, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are 100 per cent dependent on imported Russian gas. Slovenia, Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Greece are more than 50 per cent dependent on Russian gas. Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany are 13 to 40 per cent dependent—and the trend is upward.

Russia presents an attractive face to the West. The Russian middle class is getting richer; the workers are not doing badly; and there are now Russian billionaires or “oligarchs. By 2004, however, Putin had the business community under his thumb. Capitalism had become state capitalism. Meanwhile, criticism of post-Soviet Russia by the media has been evaporating.

“Russia,”says Lucas, “has become one of the most dangerous places for journalists.” Since 1992, forty-seven have been killed. The record under Putin is not encouraging. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, since Putin’s ascendancy, fourteen journalists have been murdered and eight suspicious cases are under investigation. Nor is this all.

As in the days of Stalin, various critics of the regime are being sent to psychiatric hospitals. And yet, despite this repression, Putin enjoys a very high public approval rating. Indeed, since his rise to power, “the FSB [successor to the KGB] has achieved something the KGB never quite managed: its members, current and former, are running the country.” They run the country and own the country. Some commentators call Russia a “criminal state.” Does the United States know how to deal with this new Russia? I wonder.

During the first Cold War, American Sovietologists spoke of an inevitable “convergence” between the US and the USSR. They believed that the dynamics of the modern industrial state inevitably leads to decentralization of power. They were wrong. Power is increasingly concentrated in Russia’s executive branch. “Every member of Russia’s legislature,” says Lucas, “owes his … seat to the Kremlin’s whim.” Hence, “they must dance to the Kremlin’s tune. Their task is to look enough like a parliament to maintain the pretense that Russia is run by a legislature with real powers.” (This reminds me of Israel’s Knesset, which, during 60 years, has never toppled a Labor-led or Likud-led and now Kadima-led government! Quite a democracy.)

What shall we call Russia? Since February 2006, Putin’s administration has been described as a “sovereign democracy.” Its supporters interpret this to mean that the government’s actions and policies ought above all enjoy popular support within Russia itself and not be determined from outside the country. However, Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Endowment maintains that “Sovereign democracy is a Kremlin coinage that conveys two messages: first, that Russia’s regime is democratic and, second, that this claim must be accepted, period. Any attempt at verification will be regarded as unfriendly and as meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.” This resembles the dogma that Israel is a democracy which no American Zionist organization dares criticize for the same reason!

Some Western observers scorn the term “sovereign democracy” in Russia as a subterfuge to mask what is otherwise known as dictatorship. (We have something like this in Israel. Thus, when Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon adopted Labor’s policy of “unilateral disengagement” in December 2003, he nullified the results of the January 2003 election, when the public overwhelmingly rejected Labor’s policy. Labor’s policy nonetheless became a fait accompli, since Sharon’s cabinet ministers knew that if they voted against unilateral disengagement, the Government would fall and they would lose their cabinet posts and power. No public figure dares tell the truth: democracy in Israel is a subterfuge to mask an illegitimate government and prime ministerial dictatorship.

Returning to Russia: despite its tremendous growth in wealth spurred by soaring oil prices, Russia is still a hard place to live. Since 1991, almost ten million people have left the country. Life expectancy is only 59 years; and such is the decline in the birthrate that the Russian population is shrinking by almost a million a year.

Nevertheless, the old nationalism of imperial Russia excites the Russian mind. Russian racism and xenophobia are on the upswing. Thus, despite some political pluralism in the 1990s and the veneer of capitalism, the old authoritarian style of government in Russia is very much alive along with Russia’s global ambitions.

Although Russia does not pose an immediate military threat, since most of its nuclear weapons are obsolete, Russian economic penetration of the West via its newfound wealth is ominous. Given its state capitalism, its tremendous oil and gas resources, its penetration of Western markets and stock exchanges, Russia has the wherewithal to split the American-European alliance, especially now when Europe is steeped in anti-Americanism.

How ironic! Not Russian communism but Russian money is the key to Russia’s imperial ambitions. Thus, while Russia uses business investments for political objectives, the myopic West sees only business. It allows state-run and even criminal enterprises in Russia to compete in international capital markets, which should only be open to private and lawful enterprises.

The question arises: Is American up to this challenge? Unfortunately, none of the candidates running for president measure up to Ronald Reagan. None seem equal to the threat posed by the New Cold War—a threat compounded by Islamic imperialism. Senator Barack Obama is worrisome. He has no experience in international affairs, and his position on the far left of the political spectrum renders him more inclined to negotiate with and appease tyrants and terrorists.

Also ominous, he has Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, is in the Obama camp. Brzezinski persuaded Carter to lower the U.S. defense budget, just as Obama has promised to do if elected president. Moreover, with Brzezinski as his national security adviser, Carter undermined the Shah of Iran and virtually installed the Ayatollah Khomeini. The anti-Western Iranian Revolution that followed may be the most momentous in world history if Iran obtains nuclear weapons.

It should also be borne in mind that Brzezinski is a globalist. He believes that the nation-state system fragments mankind and is historically obsolete. Obama may be close to this position even without Brzezinski. When he calls for CHANGE, he may have in mind the subordination of the United States to the United Nations. This would advance Russia’s global ambitions as well as Islam’s. The fate of Western civilization—or what’s left of it—may hang in the balance of America’s forthcoming presidential election.
Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, May 19, 2008.

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