The loss of Russia, or rather the recapture of Russia by bolshevisant and naturally despotic rulers, was not inevitable. The United States is often blamed for things for which it does not deserve the blame. But successive American governments did fail, from Clinton on, to properly deal with Russia, to take into account what 70 years of Bolshevism had done.
Self-promoters and world-conquerors such as Jeffery Sachs appear in Russia to fix everything, push their way into Russia and, without any knowledge of Russian history or of the mental makeup of those who had lived in the Soviet system, proceed to inflict all kinds of ill-thought-out instantaneous “reforms.” In Sachs’s case, and those who think like him, the great thing in the world, the only thing, is economics. Man is homo economicus, and only that. And free-market fundamentalism, the supposed need for being thrust at once into the cold bath of capitalism, showed a complete miscomprehension of Russia. Sachs’s experience with Poland, a very different country with a much more limited experience of Communism, showed that he and those of his ilk could not stop to be bothered with little things like detailed and specific knowledge of Russia and the former Soviet republics. He had no idea that, for example, it was inevitable that former managers of state enterprises would know exactly what things were worth, and know how to take advantage of the new situation to privatize most of the country’s former state-owned assets into their own portfolio. Nor did all those bright Americans think much about those Russians on fixed incomes — those teachers, those professors, many of them too old to be transformed into biznesmeny and biznesmenky, and besides, why should they? The damage to Russian education and culture, a result of the sudden collapse of the economic wellbeing of so many in this vast group, may be irreparable.
And the Americans never thought about how their actions elsewhere would play into the conspiracy theories, about diabolical Americans wishing to weaken Rus’, to not merely destroy Communism, but to humiliate Mother Russia. Of course it was all nonsense. It was Yeltsin, in a drunken stupor, who gave away much of the Soviet Union when there was no need to do so. Those “diabolical Americans” had nothing to do with it. Nor was there, as even many educated Russians seem to think, all kinds of celebrating in Washington over the weakening of Russia and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Not at all. It was something worse: ignorance and indifference.
Clinton liked to reward his friends, those he had met at Yale or at Oxford, as we all know. Robert Reich never did much to stand up to the globalization mania of Rubin and others in the Administration, but he did parlay his time as Secretary of Labor into a later career as instant pundit (gravely worried about that same “globalization”) and professor and extraordinarily well-paid lecturer as the Man Who Feels the Pain of the Poor and the Middle Class. Before moving from Cambridge to Berkeley, he sold his house off Brattle Street for $12.5 million. “Clinton has been very good to me.”
And then there is Strobe Talbot, former Time journalist who, because he knew some Russian — likely about as much as Condoleeza Rice (why, he even wrote his senior thesis at Yale on Tiutchev), was presented as an “expert” on Russia. Not Igor Birman, not Anders Aslund, not all kinds of economists. Not the Russians who knew what would or could happen, given the history of Russia and the way people had learned to behave — such people as Garry Kasparov and Yelena Bonner, or for that matter Kasianov the politician (or his brother the physicist), and others who are now part of the opposition to Putin.
But a great part of the problem was the American bombing of the Serbs. In Russia, the effect then, and even more since, has been terrible. It was seen as an attack on a historic ally of Russia, and the whole thing becomes mixed up with memories of the Bulgarian Wars in 1876-1878, and South Slavs, and seeming American indifference to Russian desires, Russian needs. America was taking the side of Muslims against Slavs. Of course it wasn’t, and of course Clinton and Albright and others had no conception of how this might affect Russian popular attitudes, attitudes of suspicion about American motives and desires. And to reply that there was no other way of dealing with Milosevic — is that true? Was there no other way? And should not the Americans, had they realized how this would naturally be used by those already inclined, in Russia, to conspiracy theories about American attentions, have insisted that other powers — England, France, anybody — do whatever bombing was deemed minimally necessary?
Condoleeza Rice’s meeting with a Muslim with known terrorist sympathies in Washington, helping perhaps to prepare the ground for a further loss of territory by Serbs, is wrong and stupid. But it is even more unusually stupid and wrong when one considers the effect on Russia.
In its foreign policy, what is it Americans wish from the Russian government? We would wish that it would be adamant in demanding that the Islamic Republic of Iran stop its nuclear project, and that it would do so because it finally realizes that it is not Chechnya alone that is at stake, but all of the Caucasus, and indeed all of Russia (when one considers the relative growth of the Muslim and non-Muslim populations). If we are to appeal to this, to urge Russia to worry about Islam, and hence about Iran or any other Muslim state acquiring such weaponry, it does not make sense to appear to support, in any way, Muslims who wish to take away territory dear to the Serbs — long after it has become clear that all over Bosnia there are Arabs promoting Jihad and a much more fanatical brand of Islam than the one that had, since Ottoman power receded, been forced to develop as a way of adjusting to now-powerful Christians or, under Tito, to non-Muslim Communist rule.
And what would the American government like most in Russia today? Certainly it would prefer to see the liberals, those who met recently, as best they could, to protest the Putin regime, gain power. But part of the problem is that the conspiracy theories about the United States prevent the Americans from offering, and those liberals from accepting, support. Any meeting of Rice with a Muslim from Kosovo, with the kind of background that this man has, will be used to inflame Russian sentiment.
Does any of this matter? Are there people in the State Department who will explain the connection between American inattention to Serbian needs, and the widespread and still growing hostility towards, and suspicion of, the United States, even among otherwise sensible Russians?
Why should the Americans give any sign whatsoever of favoring the enlargement of Muslim-controlled territory in Europe? This is crazy. This makes no sense — or rather, it makes sense if those making policy still do not understand that the Jihad is a permanent duty, and not merely some recent, anomalous expression of a supposed sense of “humiliation” felt by Muslims. The “humiliation” is manufactured and phony; Muslims may claim they feel “humiliated” whenever they are asked to simply stop waging war against non-Muslims. No doubt the Muslims in Indonesia, attacking Christians and destroying thousands of churches over the last few years, feel “humiliated” by the fact that Christians dare live and practice Christianity openly, and no doubt the Muslims in Sudan for two decades felt “humiliated” by the refusal of the non-Muslims in the south to submit, and no doubt the Muslims in Denmark feel “humiliated” that the Danes continued imperturbably to practice, and not merely regard as a theoretical possibility, their right of free speech, and no doubt the Buddhist monks and schoolteachers murdered in southern Thailand owe their deaths to some “humiliation” that the local Muslims feel in not having their demands met, and the same “humiliation” (not being given an independent territory) explains the behavior of Muslims in the southern Philippines. And so on. “Humiliation.”
We should be proving to the Russian public that we are on the side of the Serbs, not the Muslims. We should ask them to do the same with Iran — prove that they are on the side of the Infidels, and not the Muslims.
This, perhaps, is beyond this Administration, as it was beyond that of Clinton.
No one talks about “Who Lost Russia?” the way they once talked about “Who Lost China?” Of course, those who lamented the loss of China then proceeded, idiotically, to blame Owen Lattimore when it was Chiang Kai-shek, and the whole history of modern China, that helped to “lose China.” In the case of Russia, the American inability to figure out how not to supply ammunition to the conspiracy theorists in Russia, continues to astonish.