Monday, December 29, 2008

The Administration's Legacy

Tom Nichols looks at the foreign policy "orphans" of the outgoing administration:

Presidents are often remembered for the things they did, but like many administrations before his own, a significant part of George W. Bush's legacy might well lie with the things he failed to do. The Bush administration essentially "orphaned" several foreign policy issues after 2000 (relations with Mexico and Canada, and the environment, among others) but two are particularly important: tensions with Russia and the future of nuclear arms control.

He also warns us about expecting any sort of rapid change under the new team:

Barack Obama will not solve any of these problems in four, or even eight, years. They will haunt us long after the last American soldiers leave Iraq. They are problems we will bequeath to our children. That's why they're called "legacies."

Paul Richter also looks at what it being bequeathed to the incoming Administration:

As President Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the world's largest economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global influence is in decline. The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its will on others. Now, America usually needs to build alliances -- and often finds that other powers aren't willing to go along.

Meanwhile, the clock is running out for using the line that there is only one president at a time--and it does appear that the Gaza situation is moving, perhaps to equal India-Pakistan, as the "crisis" that the new president will have to address from minute 1 after the Inauguration.

'Russia, for the time being, is lost to the West', Tom Nichols writes.

I doubt this tone of fatalism is warranted. Suppose that Obama simply put the notion of expanding NATO to Georgia and the Ukraine, and plans for missile defence in Eastern Europe, onto the back burner -- and made a serious attempt to build on the common interests that the U.S. and Russia have in relation to Iran and jihadist terrorism. I think you might see Russian attitudes change dramatically.

It might also help if people like Professor Nichols could economize on sneering references to the Russians' 'failed regime and the declining civilization it represents' and 'stung egos'. A little more of the good manners people used to take for granted in Americans would do wonders for your country's standing in the world.

(It would also, incidentally, help somewhat if intelligence agencies and the media in my own country -- Britain -- would stop recycling preposterous allegations originating with Boris Berezovsky's disinformation machine that the death of the former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko was instigated by Russian intelligence.)

When it comes to Nichols' discussion of nuclear dilemmas, moreover, I find it difficult to suppress a wry smile. Back in 1987-9, two notable Western intelligence analysts turned academics -- Michael MccGwire and Raymond Garthoff -- argued that Gorbachev's adoption of the agenda for the abolition of nuclear weapons was sincere, rather than a trick.

Central to their case was the argument that the so-called 'new thinking' represented a radicalisation of existing trends. In turn, this derived from the argument, set out in detail in MccGwire's 1987 study of Military Objectives in Soviet Foreign Policy, that the Western adoption of 'flexible response' had precipitated a fundamental shift in Soviet contingency planning, towards attempting to keep a war conventional if possible, and limiting escalation if the West could not be prevented from carrying out its threats of first-use.

Rather than taking the 'new thinking' seriously, however, Western governments chose to hymn the virtues of nuclear 'deterrence'. This always seemed to me a little odd, given that, as the Sandhurst Sovietologist Chris Donnelly noted at the time, the application of information technology to weaponry was in the process of giving the U.S. an incontestable advantage in conventional forms of military power -- and making it the natural target of 'deterrence' strategies.

Western policies then had an utterly predictable consequence -- that the Russians moved towards Western strategies of nuclear 'deterrence'. In the case of some prominent military figures, such as the former Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff Colonel-General Mahkmut Gareev, this was with very evident reluctance, initially at least.

From a 1995 paper by the current head of the Foreign Military Studies Office of the U.S. Army, Dr Jakob Kipp.

'Gareev strongly disagrees with the new Russian military doctrine's open proclamation of possible first-use of nuclear weapons and points out the serious political dangers associated with such a declaratory policy. Dismissing the need for such actions against a wide range of states and noting the terrible risks associated in the use of such weapons against another nuclear power, Gareev concludes that a defensive military doctrine and first use of nuclear weapons amount to a dangerous contradiction. It can lead to confusion in times of crisis that could result in dangerous miscalculations.'


Contrast to this what Gareev said at a conference held in January last year by the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, of which he is president.

'The keynote speaker, General (ret.) Mahmoud Gareev, offered a somewhat different perspective on future threats. He predicted that “in the next 10-15 years, ecological and the energy factors will become the main cause of political and military conflicts.” Apparently referring to the U.S. presence in Iraq, he stated that some states will seek to control energy resources, while others will have little choice except to perish or resist. In Gareev’s assessment, competition for energy sources will pit Russia first and foremost against the United States and other developed countries, but will also spur nuclear proliferation, as other energy-rich countries seek nuclear weapons to defend their resources from the United States. This could lead to a “war of everyone against everyone.”

'Given these conditions, Gareev asserted that nuclear weapons will remain the “central, most reliable means for the strategic deterrence of external aggression.” He predicted that although future wars will primarily be conventional, the threat of nuclear use will always be present. Thus, Russia needs to rely on its nuclear arsenal given the unfavorable balance of conventional forces in all theaters. The role of nuclear weapons will be all the more important, Gareev asserted, because the nuclear armaments of almost all other nuclear weapons states are aimed at Russia; therefore, he concluded, Russia must maintain a credible and robust strategic nuclear deterrent. He noted, however, that due to the deterioration of Russia’s space-based observation capabilities, ground-based early warning systems, and offensive weapons, Russia’s “ability to launch a strike on warning, much less a second strike is becoming problematic.”'


The gloomy vision of the future Gareev articulats may well be vindicated -- and if it is, it will be largely the result of the failure of Western analysts and governments to take the arguments made by people like MccGwire and Garthoff seriously twenty years ago.

What then of Professor Nichols? In an h-diplo review by Professor Nichols of a book by David Painter on the Cold War, back in 2000, he told us that the 'alert instructor will want to be just a bit cautious in assigning a text that relies on outdated works such as Michael MccGwire's Military Objectives in Soviet Foreign Policy'.

I am not an expert in this material. But I do recall that the predictions of MccGwire and Garthoff turned out right, when those of mainstream defence analysts turned out wrong. I also note that in the current crisis in Western relations with Russia, some influential people on this side of the Atlantic are looking again at his views. So for example the current edition of the Chatham House journal International Affairs reprints MccGwire's 1998 paper 'NATO expansion: 'a policy error of historic importance'.

Introducing the paper, the director of the Royal United Services Institute, Michael Clarke, remarks that over forty years, MccGwire has 'developed a reputation for being both controversial and right when he analyses western relations with Moscow.' And he notes also that rereading MccGwire's article 'reminds us how much real strategic nous we have lacked in the last 20 years.'
Gen. Gareev comments precisely rebutt your statement: "the common interests that the U.S. and Russia have in relation to Iran..."; that there are, in fact and indeed, no such common interests on Iran. That country has become essential for the security of Russia (almost like Finland).
Anonymous at 11.20am,

Whether there are common interests between the U.S. and Russia, on Iran as on other matters, depends upon how one defines U.S. interests. As long as American policymakers continue to suffer from post-1989 delusions of omnipotence, they will remain unable to grasp the need to prioritise problems.

Accordingly, they will continue to find it impossible both to recognise that -- as the Singaporean analyst Kishore Mahbubani pointed out last August -- it is dotty, almost twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to go on treating the rather modest efforts of Russians to defend their interests in the post-Soviet space as a matter to get in a furious lather about.

In relation to the serious problems facing American policymakers, it should be evident that, although on some issues American and Russian interests conflict, on many other issues the two countries' interests are complementary. Among the traditional ones where this has been the case is preventing nuclear proliferation -- and I see no reason to believe that this has changed.

It may be that the breakdown in the 'strategic dialogue' between the two countries -- which seems to have virtually collapsed in the wake of the Georgian war -- makes common action over Iran impossible.

However, I note that in what was in general a distinctly pessimistic recent evaluation of the state of U.S.-Russian relations, Vladimir Orlov, who heads the Center for Policy Studies in Moscow, still saw some prospects for such common action. He suggested that Russia's political leadership was 'disappointed with the possibilities of large-scale strategic dialogue with Iran' -- by contrast with Turkey -- and that this might create 'new favourable terms for the dialogue with the United States.'

A common approach to Iran, Orlov suggested, might involve:

'the initiation of a direct dialogue between Iran and the United States, including the issues of security assurances to Tehran and normalization of U.S.-Iranian relations, Iran’s right to uranium enrichment but its own voluntary moratorium on enrichment or limitation of such enrichment, and the maximum application of the IAEA mechanisms to control the situation in Iran.'


Of course, such a proposal implies that the United States, and Israel, must give up delusions of omnipotence in relation to Iran. But that is precisely what many people of judgement and experience in Washington believe needs to happen, anyhow, if the catastrophic potentialities of current developments in the Middle East are to be contained.
Orlov's statements cannot be taken at face value. There is no possibility of strategic dialogue between Iran and US; US cannot offer anything that Iran wants. Tactical cooperation is possible though.

Anyway, as I have stated before, Russia needs Iran to be independent of US influence. And Mr. Putin has maneuvered US, EU, China, and Iran precisely to a place that is most beneficial to the Russian interests.

You must admire his exercise of softpower; Machiavelli would have been proud.
As the author of the article in question, and someone who has personally interviewed Gareev, I would argue that Gareev is an honorable man, but in his very bones he is a *Soviet* officer, and will not accept the logic of massive reductions in nuclear arms.

No one has been more of an optimist, and a booster, of the chances of Russian democracy than me. (Read my book on Russian presidentialism from 2001 before you get too testy about my "sneering" comments.) But like others--including Anders Aslund and Michael McFaul--I am heartsick at the drastic turn toward Brezhnevism the current regime has taken.

Russia doesn't want a nuclear Iran anymore than we do. Moscow's behavior has been nothing less than juvenile, and "good manners" has nothing to do with it. The regime is a failure at home and abroad and will gladly pin its excuses on the United States--while consorting with states like Venezuela and Iran--rather than face its own troubles at home.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Nichols:

Is the statement: "Moscow's behavior has been nothing less than juvenile" a rhetorical florish or is there some substance behind it? If so, could you please elaborate?

[In my discussions with the Western people I am often struck by their dismissive attitude to those of us who are too benighted to comprehend their logic. I am trying to get some clarification here; perhaps I am mistaken.]
To the poster who asked about my use of the word juvenile, I would refer you to my piece at NRO available here:

The short answer is that flying Blackjack bombers to Venezuela is a stunt, a juvenile bit of showboating that has no strategic meaning of any kind. Russia really needs to get over its adolescent insecurities and start acting like a responsible member of the international community again.
To Nichols:

Thank you for your clarification.

But you also wrote: "the brusqueness of American policy toward Russia under both Bush 43 and Bill Clinton. From NATO expansion to European missile defense, U.S. policy has clumsily poked the Kremlin in the eye for no good reason and to no good effect.."

If Russians flying Blackjack bombers is juvenile one must call US behavior infantile, no?

I think this type of rhetorical florish will not advance analytical understanding of the zero-sum nature of great power politics.
Anonymous, Tom Nichols,

It was good to see Professor Nichols responding to my comments.

I said a good deal about some of the issues involved here in an exchange of comments with an intelligent Iranian on this site, which was provoked by the Security First forum on NI online back in October 2007. Unfortunately due to a slip I posted my final comment in the sequence as 'anonymous'. But I think I would stand by what I said in that discussion.


Some further clarifications are perhaps in order. When I read the article by Professor Nichols, my thoughts went back to a discussion on the h-diplo website more than ten years ago of a review by Lloyd C. Gardner of John Lewis Gaddis's We Now Know study. Unfortunately this very interesting discussion now appears to have disappeared from the web.

However, I printed it up at the time, and fishing it out found some fascinating exchanges about the famous quotation from Milovan Djilas in which Stalin anticipates a new war in 'fifteen or twenty years'. In the course of this, Professor Nichols suggested that 'for a true abuse of the "15 or 20 years" quote, see Michael MccGwire's 1987 apologia for Soviet planning from Brookings, which is what led me to go back and check the original for, of all things, context.'

In fact, a key argument of MccGwire's book is that textual evidence about Soviet security policy is characteristically systematically ambiguous: something which is clearly true of the Djilas quote. Accordingly, to adjudicate between conflicting interpretations one needed to have recourse to 'the hard evidence of weapons characteristics, force structure, and patterns of operation and deployment', as he puts it in his exposition of his methodology in the 1987 study. A more developed exposition of this methodology can be found in Appendix A to MccGwire's 1991 study of Perestroika and Soviet National Security.

I discussed MccGwire's methodological views at some length in some reflections on neoconservative conceptions of intelligence which the former chief of Middle East intelligence at the DIA, Colonel W. Patrick Lang, posted on his Sic Semper Tyrannis website some while back.


Part of the reason why some of us in the U.K. are not so dismissive about MccGwire as Professor Nichols may have to with his background. Having graduated with the King's Dirk -- given for the best cadet of the year -- from the Royal Naval College, he went to sea as a midshipman in the Royal Navy in May 1942.

After the war he learned Russian, and besides a variety of staff work, his postings included service in the Fishery Protection Squadron (used to snoop on the Soviet Northern Fleet), on the submarine desk at GCHQ, and as assistant naval attache in Moscow. Accordingly, he brought to his final posting as head of the Soviet naval section of our Defence Intelligence Staff in 1965-7 a detailed grasp of intelligence issues rare in holders of that position.

Both the analytical approach and substantive conclusions of the academic work MccGwire produced after leaving the service have roots in this experience -- and in particular in his work on Soviet submarine programmes in the Fifties.

The most significant British work on theory and practice of intelligence is the 1996 study Intelligence Power in Peace and War by Michael Herman, who before turning academic served from 1952 to 1987 at GCHQ and in the central assessment agencies. On its publication, the diplomat and former Joint Intelligence Committee chairman Sir Percy Cradock commented that Herman's book would 'probably become a standard text'; Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge suggested it was the 'best overview of the nature and role of intelligence that I have read'; Professor (now Sir) Lawrence Freedman described it as 'representing a coming of age for the serious study of intelligence'.

What makes these tributes from very mainstream figures interesting is that Herman's chapter on 'Problems of Defence Intelligence' contains a damning indictment of what he sees as fundamental misreadings by British military intelligence of the evolution of Soviet strategic policy. In the acknowledgements to the book, Herman writes that his 'greatest debt is to Michael MccGwire -- naval officer, rugby player, intelligence expert on the Soviet navy, academic, convivial talker, and friend of long standing in all these guises'.

The criticisms Herman levels at British defence intelligence clearly reflect the influence of MccGwire's work from the time from the time they were colleagues at GCHQ -- as is further made clear in by Herman's discussion of MccGwire's contribution to British naval intelligence in the 1998 symposium Statecraft and Security.

In this, Herman contrasts two different approaches to military intelligence. In one, characteristic of much of post-war British military intelligence, analysis is compromised, partly because of the pressures of defending funding allocations, and partly because intelligence is not the path to promotion in the services -- and does not attract the best talent.

But of course where the concern is actually to win a war, different imperatives prevail. And Herman harks back to British wartime intelligence, where the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey, trained up the journalist and teacher Donald McLachlan, and employed him to write a weekly paper on how the war at sea would look to a German intelligence officer.

The notion that one had to find means of getting into the head of the adversary was fundamental to the principles on which the wartime British British Joint Intelligence Staff operated, Herman notes, and he goes on to say that 'the MccGwire impetus was to bring these principles to military matters in peacetime.'

For my own part, I first came across MccGwire's ideas when, in the course of producing a 90-minute special programme for Channel Four on European defence back in 1986, I came across a paper he had written the previous year, entitled 'Deterrence: The Problem -- Not the Solution'. This paper drew out some of the implications of the analysis subsequently published in the Military Objectives study, of which I took care to get hold of a copy in typescript.

When I mentioned MccGwire to Freedman -- who was one of the principal academic participants in my programme -- he said something to the effect that 'retired spooks go the other way.' But I soon learned that this was simply wrong. MccGwire's scepticism about conventional Western security orthodoxies actually went back to 1959. At GCHQ, he had deduced, correctly, that the Soviets had embarked on a programme to build 72 medium-style submarines a year -- and drawn what then seemed the obvious conclusions.

I remember once discussing Paul Nitze, who masterminded NSC 68, with MccGwire. He told me he had had great admiration for Nitze, but simply thought that fresh evidence had shown that he had got things wrong -- and he should have had recognised the fact. And indeed, it was indeed very easy to conclude, in 1952, that the Soviets were planning a blitzkrieg to the Atlantic, in conjunction with devastating attacks on NATO's sea lines of communication, and preemptive nuclear strikes to forestall the remobilisation of the (massively superior) U.S. military-industrial potential.

A problem which slowly became apparent to MccGwire in the course of the Fifties was that too many of the submarines that the Soviets had been building were ill-suited to their supposed role. Specifically, a large proportion of the submarines had no air defences but a 100mm gun: a combination which MccGwire points out would have been 'useless against ocean commerce' -- but very effective when operating within range of shore-based air against amphibious assault forces, particularly at night. And large numbers of the submarines were deployed in the Baltic and Black Sea, whose entrances one would expect to be controlled by superior NATO naval forces in the event of war.

So applying the principles of the wartime JIS, MccGwire grasped in 1959 that while Soviet planners clearly intended to try in the event of war to forestall the deployment of the massively superior U.S. military industrial potential in Eurasia, their assumptions about the likely course of a war were far more pessimistic than had been realised.

What they had in mind was less the extraordinary success of the Wehrmacht in 1940 -- and more the extraordinary way in which the U.S., having entered the war against Germany in December 1941, was mounting large-scale amphibious operations less than a year later.

This provided much of the basis for the initial version of MccGwire's 'apologia for Soviet planning' -- his rewriting of the British intelligence estimates of Soviet maritime objectives during his time in the DIS. But in Herman's view, 'both the British and US naval lobbies had strong interests in fostering the image of a Soviet fleet bent on world-wide power projection and challenging Western naval supremacy' -- and three years after MccGwire left 'the British naval hierarchy issued what amounted to an anathema against the "McGwire thesis".

Coming back to 1986. A fundamental point that MccGwire was making was that it was necessary to keep different kinds of thinking distinct. From the point of view of a military planner, it was perfectly appropriate to focus exclusively on capabilities, and ignore intentions -- and, albeit to a lesser extent, this focus was appropriate in determining force requirements. However, he stressed, at the political level of decision-making, accurate assessment of intentions was crucial to enabling one to assess the likely effects of one's actions before one took them -- and understand their actual effects thereafter.

So, he argued, a key consequence of NATO's adoption of 'flexible response' had been to precipitate a change in Soviet planning assumptions -- from the assumption that a general war would necessarily escalate to all-out nuclear conflict, to the assumption that it might be possible to avoid the nuclear devastation of Russia. Over time -- and taken together with the increasingly impossibility of conceiving any meaningful victory in a nuclear war -- this led to a fundamental restructuring of Soviet military planning.

Here, MccGwire's starting point was not textual analysis, but -- as he brings out in Appendix A to the 1987 study -- 'new developments in the structure of the Soviet navy that gradually became apparent during the 1970s.' Reflecting on these prompted him to go back and look against at Harriet Fast Scott's analysis of Sokolovskiy's Military Strategy -- and identify changes between different editions she had missed.

The conclusion to which all this pointed was that, paradoxically, 'flexible response' had led to an increase in the Soviet emphasis on a conventional blitzkrieg into Western Europe, while the role of the nuclear arsenal had progressively shifted from pre-emption to intra-war deterrence. The emphasis in Solovovskiy on waging war with nuclear weapons, MccGwire suggested, was finally 'authoritatively repudiated' in the open literature in Gareev's 1985 study of Mikhail Frunze.

To cut what has already become an overlong story short, through 1987 I was completely busy on other projects. But when the workload cleared, I was obviously curious to know what MccGwire -- together with his American associate Raymond Garthoff, whose work I had also been reading -- made of the noises coming out of Moscow about disarmament.

Their analysis suggested that the Soviets had an interest in nuclear arms control based on parity -- so the notion of parity at zero would only be a radicalisation of existing trends. But it also suggested that they could not afford to renounce conventional superiority in central Europe, without abandoning any prospect of avoiding defeat in a general war.

What rapidly became clear was that in terms of the MccGwire/Garthoff interpretation, the natural interpretation of the Warsaw Pact Political Consultative Committee statement in May 1987 was that fundamental changes in Soviet security policy really were afoot.

The prospect of fundamental changes in Soviet security policy -- which obviously had massive potential implications for the position of Eastern Europe -- seemed to me the biggest 'current affairs' story of my lifetime, so I tried to generate some interest in it among British television companies. Unfortunately, by this time our television was already careering down the slope towards its present state of political conformity and populist triviality. However, I finally managed to attract some interest at the BBC Radio 'Analysis' programme, and at the start of 1989 I produced two programmes for them on the so-called 'new thinking'.

Among our Soviet participants was General-Mayor Valentin Larionov -- the military figure most identified with the 'new thinkers', and as I later learned, a central presence behind the Sokolovskiy study. He told us that to understand the 'new thinking' one had to go back to the Soviet realisation in the Seventies that it was impossible to win a nuclear war; and talked about a strategist of the Twenties, then unknown to me, called Aleksandr Svechin. It was only later that, following up Jacob Kipp's description of MccGwire's 1991 study as 'a masterpiece' which was 'dead right on all the big issues', I came across Kipp's work both on the 'new thinking' and on Svechin -- and came to a better understanding of what Larionov had been trying to tell us that day.

I wanted to interview Gareev, but failed to get my request in on time. However, it seemed sensible to get hold of the English translation of the Frunze study. Folded inside it, I found a letter of complaint in which an obviously genuinely incensed Gareev complained about the introduction to the book by Joseph B. Douglas. Providing detailed page references, Gareev demonstrated that MccGwire's interpretation of the book was right -- and that Douglas had distorted the text in trying to demonstrate that 'the view is expressed in my book that there is a need to plan for a first-strike nuclear capability.'

And having noted that in the West 'people like to talk about human rights and about democracy', Gareev went on to write that 'surely in a civilized society every author should be able to count on an elementary scholarly consideration and objective elucidation of his position, or even just that his views have not been distorted?'

So this is some of the background to why I -- like the director of RUSI and numerous others in Britain and elsewhere -- have been inclined to think that MccGwire was fundamentally right in believing that Soviet professions that their military strategy was defensive at the political level were not disingenuous.

The obvious caveat is that this Soviet strategy was located in a broader intellectual framework, which was a weird combination of traditional Russian nationalist conceptions, and a secular millenarianism turned into a kind of state religion. According to this millenarian conception, the military dangers to the Soviet Union came because in their efforts to stave off the inevitable replacement of capitalism by socialism, capitalist states were driven either to seek to reverse socialist gains by military means -- or to internecine capitalist wars into which the Soviet Union would be drawn.

When the Russians finally had to come to terms with the utter disjunction between the central tenets of their ideology and the actual realities of the world order which had developed as a result of the extraordinary successes of the post-war Pax Americana, quite basic questions were inevitably raised about Soviet military strategy.

An obvious question how far the security problems of Russia were self-inflicted -- both as a result of the embrace of a disastrous ideology, and as a result of a series of specific policies, in particular policies by Stalin. I think it is fair to say that a very common view in the early Nineties was that they were largely self-inflicted: a view reflected in, among other things, the popularity of the 'Icebreaker' study by 'Viktor Suvorov', aka Vladimir Rezun: which, ironically, provoked refutations from the great David Glantz, as well as the Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky.

A minority view then was that Western antagonism towards Russia was only secondarily to do with ideology. It seems clear that Larionov -- who when we interviewed him was clearly a communist half way through a process of disillusion -- ended up adopting the first view. I suspect -- although I could be wrong - that Gareev was always inclined to the second.

Anyhow, the boot is now patently on other foot -- as is evidenced for example in the response of that sometime 'new thinker' Sergei Karaganov to the Georgian war.

'At one time, during the Communist times of the weakening and decay of the USSR, members of the dissident intelligentsia and simply intellectuals were asking the strictly speculative question: what if the country throws off the stranglehold of Communist ideology and the socialist economy and becomes capitalist and free? Most believed that a free and capitalist world would welcome us with open arms. A minority of these unrestrained romantics said that a strong capitalist and economically more effective and free Russia would cause no less opposition than the Soviet Union.

'It appears that the latter came out the “winners” in the argument.

'The basis of the cold war was more geopolitics than ideology.'


I have gone on quite long enough. However, one further point is worth stressing. For many people like myself whose roots lie in the fervent anti-communism of the Gaitskellite right of the British Labour Party, a fundamental intellectual influence was the reworking of the Burkean critique of Jacobinism by the late Sir Karl Popper. Central to our anti-communism was a repudiation of 'utopian social engineering', and what Popper called 'historicism' -- the belief that one can discern grand patterns to history with predictive value.

From a Popperian perspective, of course, 'shock therapy' in the Soviet Union was neo-Jacobinism -- as was argued in the 1992 paper 'Conservative Political Philosophy and the Strategy of Economic Transition' by the University of Maryland economist Peter Murrell, and has subsequently been argued by Joseph Stiglitz.


Characteristically, the actions of 'utopian social engineers' and 'historicists' generate unintended consequences, usually catastrophic, particularly as they see things in terms of simplistic ideological Manicheanisms. And characteristically, they can never face up to what they have done, but prefer to incorporate evidence into pre-existing ideological frameworks, however poor the fit.

In the case of Russia, as early as 1993 a Menatep official was making overtures in Washington trying to organise a giant money-laundering operation on behalf of the supposed 'democrats' so that they could extract what they had looted out of Russia. What the 'shock therapists' effectively did was massively to reinforce already existing tendencies for the disintegration of the Soviet system to create a kleptocracy.

(On this, see the testimony of Karon von Gerhke to the 1999 hearings of the House Banking Committee, and other materials from those hearings, at

It may be that the Russians sending aircraft to Venezuela is 'juvenile'. But what is one to say about providing armaments to that thug Saakashvili, whose wife describes him as being in the tradition of strong Georgian leaders like Stalin and Beria, to enable him to attempt to reincorporate by force in Georgia areas which are only part of that state because of arbitrary decisions by that same Stalin? Or the recycling by British intelligence of patently ludicrous claims that the death of Alexander Litvinenko was a state-sponsored assassination, which originate with the disinformation machine run by Boris Berezovsky?

I have incidentally set the Litvinenko mystery in the context of more general arguments about the Jacobinisation of American and British thinking in a series of posts on the European Tribune website.

Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?