A “Russian connection.”
In June, 1989, I attended a seminar on “Global Security and Arms Control,” at the University of California, Irvine, where I met and befriended four scholars from the Soviet Union. The following November, I was an invited participant in a Conference in Moscow on “The Ethics of Non-Violence,” sponsored by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. There followed, during the decade of the nineties, six additional visits to Russia, in each case at the invitation of Russian organizations and institutions. (My Russian conference papers are listed here ). Reciprocally, I had the opportunity to invite several of my Russian colleagues to the United States.
In the meantime, I have maintained my communication with many Russian friends and colleagues. A year ago, my wife and I welcomed into our home, a Russian exchange student.
Accordingly, I have been following the recent chilling of relations between the governments of Russia and the United States with great regret and foreboding, sentiments that I have been eager to share with my Russian friends.
Below is a letter to those friends. None of these individuals is named “Mikhail” (“Mischa”), so I will use that name as a salutation to all.
In 1989, the New York Times published a letter from Georgi Arbatov, the Director of the Soviet Institute of the U.S. and Canada, in which Arbatov wrote: “"We have a secret weapon … we will deprive America of The Enemy. And how [then will] you justify … the military expenditures that bleed America white?"
Sadly, it seems that we may at last have an answer to Arbatov’s question: renew the Cold War.
Unless wiser and cooler heads prevail, the Georgian conflict might prove to be the pretext for that renewal, and that would be an unspeakable tragedy for Russia, for the United States, and for the entire world.
I am as distressed as you are at the news from the Republic of Georgia. Because the American corporate media, once a dependable source of news, has become a dutiful purveyor of government propaganda, it is very difficult for an ordinary American citizen to gain an accurate understanding of what is happening in Georgia. For example, that media uncritically reported that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, was an ally of Osama bin Laden, and was involved in the September 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington. Today, even the media admits that these were all official lies or, at best, “errors.” And yet it continues to feed the public a serving of falsehoods and distortion, this time about Russia.
Accordingly, now the official Bush/Cheney version of events in Georgia, dutifully echoed by the corporate media, is that big, brutal Russia has invaded its valiant and innocent tiny neighbor that wants nothing more than a secure, western-style, free market economy and a democratic government. Some right-wing commentators go further to suggest that this is the first step of Putin’s scheme to absorb the former Soviet Republics and to restore the map of the Soviet Union.
Fortunately, many informed Americans reject this nonsense, and I count myself among them. Through a scrupulous search of independent media, the foreign press, and the internet, one may acquire a very different perspective on the situation in Georgia. Even the corporate media allows a contrary view to be read or heard. For example, Mikhail Gorbachev wrote a column in the New York Times, and appeared on CNN cable television, defending the position of Russian government. And I recently watched a TV interview with the Russian UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, who spoke directly to the American audience in his fluent English.
This much is known and acknowledged by the media and even the Bush administration: the Georgians fired first with their attack on South Ossetia to which the Russian army responded. Georgian President, Mikhiel Saakashvili, educated in the United States, has been supported by right wing elements of the U.S. government, some of whom are even urging Georgia to join NATO. And Randy Sheunemann, a policy advisor to Republican presidential nominee John McCain, recently received payment from the Georgian government to lobby the U.S. Congress. (See articles by Gary Leupp and Eric Margolis).
All this directly contradicts the simplistic and belligerent “official view” of the conflict.
It seems to me that no side in the dispute is totally without blame. I understand that the Russian-Georgian-Ossetian-Abkhasian conflicts have a long and complicated history that I can not begin to comprehend, much less assess.
But what concerns me far more is that many influential Americans, both inside and outside of the U.S. government, have behaved recklessly and irresponsibly toward Russia ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many of these individuals appear to be eager to bring back the Cold War. These determined, would-be “Cold Warriors” are the common enemy of the American people, of the people of the former Soviet Union, and of world peace. And they must be steadfastly resisted.
The hypocrisy and cynicism of George Bush and his defenders is truly breath-taking. While U.S. troops now occupy Iraq, a country that never attacked or threatened us, these American leaders are capable of these condemnations of the Russian occupation of South Ossetia:
"Russia has invaded a sovereign…state [Georgia] and threatens a democratic government elected by its people… Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century." (George W. Bush)
"This is not 1968. And the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, and overthrow a government, and get away with it. Things have changed." (Condoleezza Rice)
"In The 21st Century Nations Don’t Invade Other Nations" (John McCain)
American politicians and media propagandists seem incapable of acknowledging that Russia has legitimate strategic interests, and, in their insufferable self-righteousness, they are unwilling even for a moment to see U.S. policies from the Russian point of view. Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Republican politicians have proudly proclaimed that “Ronald Reagan ‘won’ the Cold War,” and the U.S. government has rarely missed an opportunity to taunt and humiliate its former global adversary, as it readily dismisses its agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO eastward to the Russian border.
Forty-five years ago, the world came perilously close to nuclear war when the Soviet Union established missile bases in Cuba. That crisis was defused when Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove missiles, and soon thereafter John Kennedy dismantled missiles in Turkey.
But now are we expected to be astonished when the Russian government objects to missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic?
How would the American public and its government respond if Canada and Mexico joined a military alliance with Russia?
Yet the Russian people and their government are now expected to accept without complaint, the membership of the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria into NATO, perhaps to be followed by Ukraine and Georgia.
This is no way to establish a post-Cold War partnership of great nations in a world facing profound ecological and climatological peril. Instead of squandering vast sums of national treasure and the talents of thousands of scientists and engineers in preparation for wars that cannot be won and promise mutual annihilation instead, those same talents should be devoted to finding solutions to the energy and climate crises directly before us. The United Sates and Russia should join forces and lead the world to a post-petroleum, post-carbon industrial civilization. As I pointed out at a Moscow conference in 1989, international alliances are formed through the perception of national leaders of a common threat. This time, that common threat is not Napoleon or Hitler, nor is it the Soviet Union, which gave rise to NATO, or the United States, which led to the Warsaw Pact. This time, the common threats are “peak oil,” global climate change, and ecological devastation –” what Al Gore has called a “planetary emergency.” (See my “Swords into Plowshares.”)
Instead, the fanatics now in charge of the United States government are extending NATO up to the borders of Russia, installing missiles within a few kilometers of that border, and urging its client states such as Georgia to stage provocative assaults upon Russian populations. In short, they seem hell-bent on reigniting the Cold War, a policy that is unacceptable to a vast majority of the American people.
How is such madness possible? Georgi Arbatov suggested the answer: the “military-industrial complex,” as President Eisenhower called it, desperately needs a credible enemy to justify its annual half-trillion dollar drain on our economy, and the many personal fortunes that result from it. Some twenty years ago, the late economist Kenneth Boulding, summed it up perfectly when he remarked to me that the Soviet and American military establishments were allies in their common warfare against the civilian economies of each nation. And so today, with its physical infrastructure in ruins, its citizens without affordable health care, and its children ill-educated, the United States politicians are convinced that a military budget equaling half of that of the entire world is not enough. Because aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and intercontinental missiles appear to be inappropriate weapons against stateless terrorists hiding in caves, the U.S. military establishment needs a credible strategic adversary to justify its continued exorbitant claim on our resources. Who else but Russia, and soon, perhaps, China?
In the face of such arrogant, ignorant and reckless behavior by American leaders, what are the Russians to do? If I had the ear of Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, I would suggest the following: “Be patient and cautious. The American public is waking up at last. Bush and his neo-conservative collaborators have the support of less than 30% of the public, and their time in office is running out –” perchance faster than they realize. Fully two thirds of the American public do not support the Iraq war, and want an early end and withdrawal from Iraq. More and more of us American share your disapproval of American imperialism and American international bullying, and have no desire whatever to see a return of the Cold War. Of those who do not, many would also disapprove but for the official lies that they have been persuaded to accept.”
Recently, Stephen Cohen, an astute observer of Russian-American relations, published “The New American Cold War” which eloquently expresses my concerns, and the concerns of many of my compatriots:
Unless U.S. policy-makers and opinion-makers recognize how bad the relationship has become, we risk losing not only the historic opportunity for an American-Russian partnership created in the late 1980s by Gorbachev, Reagan and the first President Bush, and which is even more essential for our real national security today; we also risk a prolonged Cold War even more dangerous than was the last one…
What must be done, however, is clear enough. Because the new Cold War began in Washington, steps toward ending it also have to begin in Washington. Two are especially urgent… A U.S. recognition that post-Soviet Russia is not a defeated supplicant or American client state, as seems to have been the prevailing view since 1991, but a fully sovereign nation at home with legitimate national interests abroad equal to our own; and an immediate end to the reckless expansion of NATO around Russia’s borders.
To Stephen Cohen’s excellent analysis, I would add this: the American people must be constantly reminded that the Russian people are not their natural enemies, as conversely, the Russians must be similarly reminded about Americans. To this end, both countries must continue and must expand personal and cultural exchanges. I can report that during the past twenty years, there have been numerous television programs favorably presenting Russian history and culture to American audiences. There is, I assure you, a vast fund of good will toward the Russian people among the general American public. And I can also report that our personal Russian Ambassador, young Danil Glumov from Saratov, who was our guest during the 2006-2007 school year, thoroughly charmed his high school classmates and all who met him. Dan brought back to Saratov a vivid collection of positive impressions and opinions of the United States that will stay with him throughout the long and distinguished career that is before him.
Whatever the outcome of the folly concocted by our leaders, please be assured that my affection for my Russian friends, and my admiration for Russian culture and history will be undiminished.