"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, November 07, 2005

Putin, Russia and American Interests

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s fall and dismemberment, it was widely believed that democratic reforms would be ushered in. Gorbachev had his perestroika which was designed to save as much of communism as possible; Yeltsin, however, claimed communism was dead, a relic of a bygone past.

But the Yeltsin era ended not as tragedy but as farce. Yeltsin was besotted more often than not, acted as a buffoon and was susceptible to corruption. He was replaced by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative, who was discharged with putting the Russian humpty-dumpty together again.

For Yeltsin, liberation from economic oppression took the form of a Wild West land grab. Oligarchs gobbled up key sectors of the economy protected by their own private armies as Yetsin averted his gaze or was complicit in the public looting.

Putin restored order in precisely the manner one would expect from a KGB agent. He was ruthless and relentless. He didn’t challenge all the oligarchs only those who used their wealth to compete against his political dominance. When Khordokovsky supported Putin’s democratic rivals, he soon found himself in trouble with the law and now spends his time hammering stones in a labor camp, a broken and forgotten figure.

Putin is the embodiment of the Russian Brumaire, a Napoleon there to restore order, but who violates all of the democratic principles that brought him to power in the first place. His government is organized to promote stability. After all, he has argued the Russian people respect a strong leader.

While he is unquestionably a political figure different from Stalin and his Soviet successors, he is by no means either a democratic proponent or a benevolent autocrat. He presides over a still vast nation with seemingly intractable problems. Russian citizens, for example, have a life expectancy that is in continual decline, the only western nation in this predicament.

American foreign policy analysts are inclined to give Putin the benefit of the doubt suggesting it is better to have his brand of dictatorship than instability. Alas, there is some truth to this contention. Russian intelligence services, eager to ferret out Chechnyan Muslim terrorists, have also worked closely with their counterparts in the U.S. on actions against international terrorism.

But that is only part of a complex story. Putin realizes that the only way to forestall democratic impulses already evident in nearby Ukraine and counter American influence in Asia is to sign a mutual defense pact with China and, this year, engage in joint military exercises. Dictators tend to find like-minded conditions in fellow dictators.

There are many reasons to believe this relationship is unsustainable including border disputes, competition for resources and the growing Chinese population in Siberia. At the moment, however, it is a dangerous challenge to American interests and poses a threat to a U.S. defense of Taiwan should an attack be launched from the mainland.

This China card is an insurance policy for Putin which gives him credibility at home and influence abroad. For the U.S. it is a danger sign that must be thwarted.

At this juncture, the U.S. has some leverage over the Russians because of trade, foreign investment and the development of the still immature oil industry. It is incumbent on President Bush to speak plainly and directly to the man he claims to understand. Russian interests, needless to say, may not be consonant with those of the Bush administration, but when they are in conflict, diplomatic pressure must be exerted.

It is time for Bush to address Putin the way Reagan spoke to Gorbachev in Reykjavik. Just as there must be a “stick” for challenging U.S. interests, there should also be a “carrot” for embracing political openness and liberalization. In the long run, Russian’s future as a European entrant is dependent on democratization.

9 comments:

Tlaloc said...

I've always thought pro-capitalists shoot themselves in the foot when they point to the USSR as proof that communism can't work. Afterall Russia has fared no better under capitalism. Corruption is corruption.

tbmbuzz said...

Tlaloc said...
I've always thought pro-capitalists shoot themselves in the foot when they point to the USSR as proof that communism can't work. Afterall Russia has fared no better under capitalism. Corruption is corruption. <<

What do you mean by the general (and meaningless) statement that "communism can't work"? Of course it works - for the privileged few, the "New Class" in the "classless" society that Milovan Djilas spoke of! But does Communism bring prosperity, freedom, creativity, all the rest of the privileges paid for in blood and toil that increasingly spoiled Westerners take advantage of and don't appreciate? A resounding NO, and the USSR was proof of this!! What is happening in Russia is the result of a thousand years of primitive autocratic rule and an embedded culture that still accepts "Big Brother knows best." It has nothing to do with the (obvious) merits of capitalism over the perversities of communism. Why don't you tout East Europe instead as a prime example of the merits of capitalism vs the non-merits of communism?

Tlaloc said...

"But does Communism bring prosperity, freedom, creativity, all the rest of the privileges paid for in blood and toil that increasingly spoiled Westerners take advantage of and don't appreciate? A resounding NO, and the USSR was proof of this!!"

Thank you for making my point.



"What is happening in Russia is the result of a thousand years of primitive autocratic rule and an embedded culture that still accepts "Big Brother knows best." It has nothing to do with the (obvious) merits of capitalism over the perversities of communism."

Except that you claim that it's proof that communism can't work and yet when capitalism is given exactly the same chance and fails just as spectacularly you claim that has nothig to do with capitalism. Can't have it both ways. Either Russia is a crucible that has disproven both communism and capitalism or it has disproven neither. Both have been tried both failed. So which is it?



"Why don't you tout East Europe instead as a prime example of the merits of capitalism vs the non-merits of communism?"

Because again its a false equivilency.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Communism, in its way, works. All you need to do is think of the human experience as a lifeboat, and have a willingness to pitch those who don't overboard.

tbmbuzz said...

tlaloc: "Except that you claim that it's proof that communism can't work and yet when capitalism is given exactly the same chance and fails just as spectacularly you claim that has nothig to do with capitalism. Can't have it both ways. Either Russia is a crucible that has disproven both communism and capitalism or it has disproven neither. Both have been tried both failed. So which is it?" <<

Who (besides you) says that what is going on in Russia today is capitalism? It is nothing of the sort! Communism was tried for 70 years in Russia and failed not because of Russia but because of itself!! Contrarily, can you come up with even one example where capitalism when it has truly been tried has failed? Or perhaps why don't we consider examples where ONE nation has tried both capitalism and communism and compare the results? You know, those inconvenient examples (for leftists) of Korea and Germany. Contrary to your pulled-from-the-ether assertion, East Europe IS another prime example and the results of their two social experiments - Communism first, now capitalism - are there for all to see.

Tlaloc said...

"Who (besides you) says that what is going on in Russia today is capitalism?"

Um...everyone actually. Out of curiousity what system of socioeconomic theory do you think they follow?



"Contrarily, can you come up with even one example where capitalism when it has truly been tried has failed?"

Well the US springs to mind.



"Or perhaps why don't we consider examples where ONE nation has tried both capitalism and communism and compare the results?"

You mean like Russia? Yeah why don't we?



"You know, those inconvenient examples (for leftists) of Korea and Germany."

I don't find those example inconvenient at all since neither is any better a capitalistic country than we are and we are ample proof that capitalism is a miserable failure.



"Contrary to your pulled-from-the-ether assertion, East Europe IS another prime example and the results of their two social experiments - Communism first, now capitalism - are there for all to see."

Wierd that you maintain that eastern europe is somehow a perfect example of capitalism and communism but Russia (under exactly the same circumstances) isn't. Odd that.

tbmbuzz said...

Statements such as this, "we are ample proof that capitalism is a miserable failure...." prove that I'm wasting my time here. I have better things to do.

James Elliott said...

Statements such as this, "we are ample proof that capitalism is a miserable failure...." prove that I'm wasting my time here. I have better things to do.

No, he's asking you to back up your faith-based responses with something approaching reasoning and evidence. It's not so much that you're wrong, buzz, as that you're trying to combat one form of belief with another and relying upon the fervence of your belief to be more than Tlaloc's.

"Contrarily, can you come up with even one example where capitalism when it has truly been tried has failed?"

This is the ultima ratio regat of free-market boosterism because it's so patently reliant on theory over reality. Whenever a critic of capitalism brings up a contrary example, the booster/economist merely says "Ah, but that wasn't true capitalism because X, Y, and Z interfered." Well, duh. The reason free-market capitalism doesn't work is because it can't exist outside the theoretical. Real markets are way too easy for actors to screw with (and if the Grover Norquist types have their way, there will be no mechanisms left to stop those that do).

Matt Huisman said...

...and we are ample proof that capitalism is a miserable failure.

On what grounds? Because we don't practice pure free-market capitalism or because it is a horrible place to live?