(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation. Picked up by Oriental Review.)

I have just read the memoirs of General Armand de Caulaincourt who accompanied Napoleon throughout the Russian venture. He was France’s Ambassador to Russia from 1807 until 1811 and got to know the Emperor Alexander quite well. Napoleon recalled him and he eventually resumed his tasks as his Master of the Horse.

His account begins with a long conversation with Napoleon. Just before he left St Petersburg, Alexander called him in for what was, unmistakeably, a message and warning to be passed on. De Caulaincourt really tries hard – but unsuccessfully – to make Napoleon get the point. He tells him that Alexander said he had learned something from the Spanish resistance to France and that was that Napoleon’s other opponents had given up too early; they should have kept fighting. Napoleon is unimpressed: his generals in Spain are incompetent and and his brother (to whom he had given the Spanish throne) is an idiot; he sees no larger lessons and believes that Spain is not important in the great scheme. De Caulaincourt reiterates that Alexander kept returning to that point, giving other illustrations of giving up too soon and emphasised that, if Napoleon invaded, he would persevere: he would keep fighting from Kamchatka if need be; Russia was very large and the weather very severe. One good battle and they’ll give up insists Napoleon. Napoleon then mentions how angry the Poles are getting with Russia. De Caulaincourt retorts that the Poles he knows, while they would certainly prefer a free and independent Poland, have learned that living under Russia is not as bad as they thought it would be and that real freedom might cost more than it would be worth. De Caulaincourt then, no doubt repeating what Alexander has told him, describes the compromise that would settle the problems between him and Russia; but Napoleon’s not interested. After five hours of this, Napoleon dismisses him but de Caulaincourt asks leave to say one more thing: if you are thinking of invading (now de Caulaincourt realises that he’s set on it) please think of France’s best interests. Oh says Napoleon, now you’re talking like a Russian.

Well, the similarities just leap off the page don’t they? Napoleon today is played by Washington. (One may hope that Trump’s pullout from Syria marks the beginning of real change. But let’s wait and see what actually happens.) There have been years of ignorant overconfidence in Washington – just like Napoleon’s – Russia is a gas station pretending to be a country, it doesn’t make anything and its GDP is less than Canada’s or Spain’s or some other not very important country. (In truth, since Russia’s arrival in Syria, some hawks are starting to sound less confident: as a recent example an American thinktank warms that the US Navy might not prevail against Russia and China.) But the popular expectation remains that one more push and Putin will cave in: he won’t be holding out in Kamchatka. Russia today is played by Russia, of course. As to who’s playing Poland, Ukraine makes a good stand-in (although Poland may be trying to reprise its role). Napoleon’s assertion that Poland wants war with Russia is replicated by today’s Kiev regime: it is doing its best to make it happen. But, like de Caulaincourt’s account of actual Poles, there is little to suggest that ordinary Ukrainians have much stomach for a war and one may suspect that a majority would be happy to a return to the (miserable, but not as miserable) time before the “revolution of Dignity”. Who plays the role of Spain, the nation that didn’t understand that it had been beaten? Today gives us several candidates: you may choose from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.

But, what’s really contemporary, and he repeats it several times, is Napoleon’s sneer that de Caulaincourt has become a Russian: even two centuries ago, long before RT, Sputnik or Facebook ads, Russia’s malign “information war” and “fake news memes” were polluting Western minds! Then, as well as today, anyone who deviated from the received wisdom must be echoing Russian falsehood.

As I said, the similarities jumped out at me a couple of pages into de Caulaincourt’s account. On the one hand we see the man who actually knows what he’s talking about and who is trying to relay an important message to his superior; on the other the arrogant superior who knows everything and calls all disagreement Putinism Russianism. And, in the background, the yappy little players trying to wag the Imperial Dog. And, airily dismissed, the years-old failures on other battlefronts.

Well, we all know what happened, don’t we? Napoleon put together an army (with lots of Poles) and invaded. De Caulaincourt was there at his side every step in and out. And Russia proved (as it did again in 1941) that it didn’t realise when it had been defeated. De Caulaincourt takes us through it. Napoleon’s confidence that the Russians are falling back and he will defeat them in detail. The shocking losses of horses and the gradual wearing away of cavalry scouts. The invisibility of the Russian army. Scorched earth – de Caulaincourt compares the Grande Armée to a vessel alone on a huge, empty ocean. Supply problems. More horse losses. Distance and more distance and still no victorious battle. Guerrillas. No prisoners. No information.

Let us consider Smolensk. Napoleon occupied it and, after a brief fight (and the burning of the city), took possession. David Glanz has convincingly argued that the Battle of Smolensk in 1941, while a German victory, was actually Germany’s defeat because it meant that the short blitzkrieg victory Berlin counted on was no longer possible; in a long war, the USSR’s mighty industrial capacity would come into play. And so it was for Napoleon: too late, too little and still no negotiations. But he convinced himself that there would be peace in six weeks (he is now about the only optimist left in the Grande Armée). Messengers are sent to Alexander. No answer. The Grande Armée marches east in search of The Battle. At last – Borodino, one of the bloodiest days in warfare – but the Russian army disappears again. He takes Moscow – now Alexander must talk. He – another echo of today – has convinced himself that Russia’s nobles (big businessmen) will force Alexander (Putin) to give in because they are losing so much. But they don’t. Through de Caulaincourt’s reporting we see the adamantine self-delusion of Napoleon. At last Napoleon gives up, goes home and the Russian Army follows him all the way back to Paris. See the famous graph.

Napoleon still doesn’t get it: one of his sillier complaints is that Kutuzov doesn’t understand strategy; well it’s not Kutuzov who’s plodding through icy roads littered with abandoned equipment, butchered horses and dead soldiers, is it? “I beat the Russians every time, but that doesn’t get me anywhere”. Winning every battle and losing the war is not as uncommon as all that: we have seen it from Darius and the Scythians to the US and Afghanistan.

Everything turns out as de Caulaincourt warned him. Except that, in the end, Alexander doesn’t go to Kamchatka, he goes to Paris instead. The story is that the French bistro owes its name to the Russian быстро! (quickly!). True or not, there once were Russian soldiers in Paris demanding quick service. There are already bistros in Washington, So after Napoleon (USA/NATO) invades Russia (Russia) ignoring de Caulaincourt’s (lots-of-people-on-this-site’s) advice, what new culinary event will Russian (Russian) soldiers leave behind in Paris (Washington)? A Ёлки-Палки on every street? Kvas trolleys?

Oh, and Poland, after 70,000 casualties in the Russian war, remained partitioned.

We return to today. Napoleon (USA/NATO) professes its desire for peace but… those pesky Russians (Russians) are making trouble for Poland (Ukraine – or is it Poland again?) which presses for an attack. The Spanish (Afghans/Iraqis/Syrians) say, whatever Napoleon (USA/NATO) may think, they don’t feel beaten yet. Alexander (Putin) says “he would not fire the first shot, but also that he would sheathe the sword last”.

To quote Field Marshal Montgomery, who had more experience in big wars and standing on the victory podium than any US general since MacArthur: “Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow'”. (His second rule, by the way, was: “Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.” As Washington’s policy drives Moscow and Beijing closer together…. But that is another subject).

I don’t know who the next US Defence Secretary will be, but I have a suggestion for some introductory reading.


For example, in Georgia in 2008, without using American military forces on the ground, we used a whole set of – a whole smorgasbord of tools, international tools with Sarkozy, the president of France at the time, leading the international diplomatic effort, sanctions and other actions that eventually saw the Russians withdrawing to their start positions at the beginning of that conflict in Georgia. So that’s an example of how you can do it.

Briefing by James F. Jeffrey, (US) Special Representative for Syria Engagement, 14 November 2018

I’ve been waiting for Washington to claim it pushed Russia out of Georgia and now here it is. The Russians never had any intention of staying and that’s a big difference between the Russia way of war and the American: the Russians know that there are only certain things you can do with violence; the Americans still haven’t figured that out.


(I wrote this under a pseudonym four years ago today. Another reminder of the present mess.)

Apparently the Soviets were really concerned about Ronald Reagan; I guess they believed the propaganda that the liberal US media put out about low intelligence, fanatic anti-Soviet stance, ignorance and all round crazy unreliability. In fact Reagan was quite different and maintained at least one alternate source of information as Suzanne Massie retails in this fascinating memoir. She acted as a confidante, teacher and emissary and had many meetings with him. He wanted a different view of the USSR than he got from his advisors and she gave it to him.

Of course, I knew nothing of this at the time; I sensed relations were tense but, at my low level, I wasn’t aware of how dangerous it actually was in the early 1980s. Fortunately we were in touch with a Soviet undercover agent – Oleg Gordiyevskiy – who told us how worried and nervous the Soviets were. The story that I heard later was that the Soviets feared that a planned NATO exercise around this time might be a cover for the real thing – a surprise nuclear attack (remember the Western liberal press was saying Reagan was crazy enough to nuke ‘em). I already knew that, for the Soviet war doctrine, surprise was so important an advantage, that it could not be permitted. In short, if they really thought that we were about to strike them, they would face enormous pressure to make a pre-emptive strike. When all this was understood, the exercise was greatly scaled down so as to assuage the Soviet fears. In those days Reagan and other Western leaders understood that Moscow’s point of view was important.

Going back to Massie’s memoir, “So what was different about President Reagan’s approach and what is its relevance to today? From the beginning Reagan, who was always an extremely courteous man, treated Gorbachev with respect – as an equal. He did not scold him as if he were a bad child who didn’t do his homework – but as partner with whom one could talk and work out problems.”

Let’s compare this with President Obama’s approach as revealed in his interview with The Economist last month. “We had a very productive relationship with President Medvedev. We got a lot of things done that we needed to get done.” It’s clear who the first “we” is, who’s the second? Probably the same as the first: ie Washington. Doesn’t it sound as if Obama is saying that, at long as Washington got its way, relations were good? Then there’s “But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything…” Doesn’t that sound like he’s saying that Russia isn’t important enough to bother taking its point of view into account?

Quite a different approach, isn’t it? From Reagan’s respect and mutual effort to casual dismissal.

No wonder Washington’s policies are failing across the board and a Gallup poll finds the USA heads the world’s choice as the “greatest threat to peace”.



(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation)

Forty years ago I was quite impressed by the books of Jean François Revel in which he argued that The West was pretty much doomed because it was messy and indecisive. On the other hand, the communist world was decisive, centrally controlled, had a goal in mind and was patient and cunning in achieving that goal (the communisation of the planet, of course). They pushed on all fronts, where the West woke up and pulled itself together enough to push back, the communists recoiled, but the advance continued elsewhere. And so, bit by bit, the world became redder. These were, as I recall, the principal arguments of The Totalitarian Temptation (1977) and How Democracies Perish (1983). And there were plenty of other people bemoaning the fact that the inchoate Western democracies were frittering away valuable time.

And then, suddenly, the Warsaw Pact and the USSR fall apart and essentially took communism into the grave with them. The West was left standing. Still argumentative, inchoate, indecisive and all the rest of it but – and this is my point – still existing when the other was dead. And come to think of it, we’d outlasted that other stainless-steel perfection of centrally directed will and power, Nazi Germany. And there had been plenty of people in the 1930s who thought that, between communism and naziism, the West was doomed. This set me to thinking that Revel and the others had missed something in their analysis.

We outlived them. We survived, they didn’t. And that what I wondered about – there must be something in the West’s way of doing things that led to survival and something in the nazi or communist systems that led to death. I thought some more and the analogy that occurred to me is that there are many kinds of trees. Big ones, little ones, in-between sized ones. Some live in the wet, others in the dry, others half drowned by the sea and so on. There is in fact, a tree, or several trees, for almost any conceivable environmental condition. And therefore, there will always be trees. Why? Because instead of one Perfect Tree, there is a multitude of different trees. And of fishes, beetles, birds and so on. Nature is pluralistic: many many solutions for every imaginable situation and the ability to change to meet new challenges. Arnold Toynbee called this “challenge and response”; a society responds to a challenge: a good response and it survives to meet the next challenge, a bad response and it fades away.

Could this be the clue? Naziism and communism had One Big Answer for every question. That answer worked for a time until it met some questions it couldn’t answer and down it went. To grossly oversimplify things: the nazis loved force and they went to war with everybody, but you can’t win against everybody else, although you may do well for a while; a hammer and a sickle do not really mentally equip you for life in the later twentieth century; “a road to a blind alley” as Putin called it. Grossly simplified to be sure. If you prefer, ideological societies can only function inside the ontological assumptions of that ideology. But no ideology is any more than a small subset of boundless reality.

So what do we (or, sadly I have to ask, did we) have in the West? I think the three fundamental freedoms in the West are free speech, free politics and free enterprise. Looking at these through the lens of pluralism, they are pluralism of thought, pluralism of power and pluralism of action. Remember that the question I was trying to answer was why did the West survive? I wasn’t asking who’s better, more ideal, more moral; just why is one still around and the other two not? To me the answer was the same thing that allows us to be certain there will still be trees and beetles around in the future – pluralism: lots of different trees and beetles.

Take free speech or pluralism of thought. Everybody’s different, everybody has different ideas, insights, points of view. Let’s assume that, for some issue, mine is the winning idea today. But tomorrow you may have a better solution for the problem that appears tomorrow. If I suppressed you (“no man no problem”, as Stalin used to say) or otherwise prohibited your irrelevant (today) but relevant (tomorrow) idea, we would be in trouble tomorrow and less likely to survive until the next day. So, since we don’t know what tomorrow’s problems are, it’s best to let everybody think his thoughts because who can say whose ideas will be winners tomorrow? The same argument can be made for the other two pluralisms/freedoms. And so, by practising pluralism of thought, power and action, a society improves its chances of survival. That’s all: survival. But that was the question I asked myself in the first place.

So, to my mind, that was the great secret that communism’s fall had revealed – social or national survivability is best assured by pluralism of thought, power and action. So, in all humility, we should have understood that and proclaimed it. And, of course, the essence of pluralism is that you are free to be, and should be, yourself. All nations should be themselves: Russians should be Russian, Hungarians Hungarian and so on. Who can say who will have the next good idea? Who is so wise that he can direct his neighbour’s life? That to me was what should have been done and, had that been the message the West had preached, I think we’d all be better off today.

What instead? We had the fatuous proclaiming of “values”: we had ’em and they didn’t. All over the West stuffed shirts got up in parliaments to boast of “our values”. How we got them no one knew. Did God hand them out to some people but not to others? Russians, too lazy or shiftless or something, having missed the ceremony? Had they mysteriously grown in some national soil over long time? A relict of ancient Saxon customs that only their descendants could inherit? The product of centuries of learning? And what is a “value” anyway? A practical guide to action or a virtue that you either have or don’t? Was it something innate or something learned? Could they get these values? Could they be taught? But, whatever, we had ’em and they didn’t; we were virtuous, they weren’t. And there was another tiresome thing about this, especially when, as it often was, the values were given the adjective “European”. Franco, Hitler, Marx, Engels, Mussolini, Robespierre, Napoleon, Quisling and all the rest of them were Europeans. Every single one of them based his ideas and political views on sources deeply rooted in European thought and experience. And, for certain, had it not been for the Soviets and the Anglosphere, the “European values” Eurocrats and their flunkeys would have been boasting about today would have involved a lot more leather, jackboots and stiff-armed salutes. The whole enterprise resembled something from the movie Idiocracy: “Brawndo has what plants crave because plants crave what Brawndo has“. It was weirdly fascinating to watch.

Our “values” and our “virtue” entitled us to rule the world. We were licensed to do just about anything because we had “what plants crave”. And so triumphalist arrogance and complacent ignorance combined with the West’s monopoly of exportable brutal power. And so it went. An unexamined conceit, frighteningly widespread, became the justification, and cover, for less noble actions.

But some responses to challenges are not so successful and we must ask what has become of our boasted “values” today? Well, we’re still free to speak our minds. Not of course if it’s hate speech or fake news; who could defend that? And not, certainly, to offend anyone’s safe space. And you’d probably better not say anything in Russian. Political freedom? Not entirely gone I suppose, in those little corners not already bought up by lobbyists. And it would certainly be wrong to question anything said or done by “those brave men and women who put their life on the line for our safety”. Free enterprise of course still flourishes. In whatever tiny spaces a few gigantic and well-connected corporations have not yet got to.

Altogether, we can’t be very happy with the state of pluralism in the West. And if I’m correct that pluralism is the key to survival, how much longer do we have?

So who did win the Cold War in the end?



(First published Strategic Culture Foundation)

When President Bush decided to attack Iraq in 2003 there were enormous protests in the United States and around the world. Not, of course, that they stopped the attack or even slowed it, but people did protest in large numbers. When Obama – “leading from behind” – and some NATO members decided to attack Libya in 2011 there were, as far as I know, no protests anywhere. Nor were there protests as wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and a secret war in Syria dragged on for nearly his whole eight years.

The surface explanation is that Obama, as a Democrat, the First Black President, an “intellectual” and a Nobel Prize winner, got the free pass that Bush as a Republican and an “incurious idiot” did not get. But there was another factor at work, I believe.

In the Obama years the marriage of the neocons and the humanitarian interventionists was effected. The neocons, with their doctrine of American Exceptionalism are always ready for an intervention and their justification is always the same: “American moral leadership”:

Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job.

So there was never any difficulty getting neocons and their ilk to support another bombing campaign to do a bit of “morally exceptional police work”. The Obama change is that liberals, whose historic tendency is to oppose another war, are now in the War Party. And so there was hardly anyone was left to go out on protest.

Their first date, as it were, was NATO’s intervention in Kosovo/Serbia in 1999. That experiment proved that liberals would happily agree to go to war if the intervention could be coloured as morally acceptable: “genocide” and “rape” being especially powerful words. And, on command, it happened. “Serbs ‘enslaved Muslim women at rape camps‘”. Hundreds of thousands missing, feared murdered. 10,000 in mass graves. But the ur-source was the official NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea. (The following quotations are from NATO press briefings I collected at the time. I do not know whether they are still available on the NATO website, although, like the first one, many are still visible.) In March he told us that “we are on the brink of a major humanitarian disaster in Kosovo the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since the closing stages of World War II.” The NATO operation was conducted to “stop human suffering” (15 April). On 20 April he gave us a catalogue of Serb horrors: hundreds of Kosovar boys possibly preserved as living “blood banks for Serb casualties”; Kosovar human shields tied to Serb tanks; “chain gangs of Kosovars” digging mass graves; “systematic destruction of civilian homes”; rape camps. On 4 May “at least 100,000 men of military age are missing”. And so on: how could you not support the “alliance of civilised nations” (his description) intervening to stop these horrors? And CNN was there every step of the way; later we learned that US military psyops personnel had “helped in the production of some news stories“. Other media outlets were equally quick on board, again with occasional “help” from US intelligence:

In the case of Yugoslavia, the gullibility quotient has been breathtakingly high: Only material that conformed to the reigning victim-demon dichotomy would be hunted down with tenacity and reported; material that contradicted it, or that served to weaken and disconfirm it, would be ignored, discounted, excluded, even attacked.

Entirely one-sided with the media (predominantly liberal in sympathy) following the choir leader.

Later, too late in fact, we learned that it wasn’t so simple. A UN court ruled that it wasn’t “genocide” after all. Milosevic, dead in prison, was exonerated. Not so many mass graves after all. And, after all those deaths, whom did NATO put in power and give a whole country to? Organ harvesters and arms smugglers. And yes, the CIA was in there from the get go. A completely manipulated discussion. And the Serbs have been driven out of Kosovo right under NATO’s nose. Too late indeed.

In his essay, “Hidden in Plain View in Belgrade“, Vladimir Goldstein discovers, under the heading “What For?”, a memorial to the people killed in the attack on the TV centre. His conclusion, with which I agree, is:

Thus was R2P implemented—with no protection for Yugoslav Serbs. They had to die in the experiment to explore the limits of U.S. power and the limits of its resistance.

The experiment worked: it showed that an aggressive war could be packaged so that liberals signed on: all you had to do was push the war crimes/humanitarian/genocide button. And, as a bonus, it was discovered that when the truth finally came out, no one remembered and you could sell the same shabby story again; and so, Serb-run “rape camps” became Qaddafi’s men with Viagra.

It was around this time and these circumstances that the responsibility to protect (“R2P”) idea began to gain traction. Finally formalised at the UN in 2005, the essence was that governments are obliged to protect their populations from atrocities and that the “international community, through the United Nations” may intervene. That was the magic potion: if the war party could make a case for R2P (and, as Kosovo showed, the case didn’t have to last any longer than the war did) liberals would cheerfully sign on.

Obama celebrated the liberal-interventionist/neocon marriage at West Point in 2014. Starting with the neocon foundation on which all their wars are erected, that America will and must lead, comes the liberal deal-clincher: “not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.” And that leading involves a “backbone”, not of example or persuasion, but of bombs: “The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership”. When should the USA use “that awesome power”? Certainly when “core interests” demand it but also when “crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction”.

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership: Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.

And, he assured us, it all works out for the best in the end:

remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.

And, finally, this paladin of liberalism declared:

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.

When the “victim-demon dichotomy” media siren is turned on, any war, any bombing campaign, can be massaged to fit “core interests” and/or “human dignity”. We’re all exceptionalists now.

Despite a successful movie showing us, step by step, how to do it, the scam still pulls in the suckers: justifying the attack on Libya, Obama said (note he combines leadership and atrocities):

To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action. [My italics]

The atrocities? In September 2013, after Qaddafi had been murdered and Libya destroyed, Harvard’s Belfer Center said the “model intervention” was based on false premises:

• The Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong. Libya’s 2011 uprising was never peaceful, but instead was armed and violent from the start. Muammar al-Qaddafi did not target civilians or resort to indiscriminate force. Although inspired by humanitarian impulse, NATO’s intervention did not aim mainly to protect civilians, but rather to overthrow Qaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans.

• The Intervention Backfired. NATO’s action magnified the conflict’s duration about sixfold and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbors.

The cynic would say, the real lesson is get the intervention over before anybody notices the atrocity stories have been “sexed up“. When they do, it’s too late and few remember. And it will work the next time around. And so the happily-married couple proceeds: “The West cannot stand by in Syria as we did for too long in Bosnia.

That is Obama’s real legacy: the union – marriage – of the neocon assumption that America must “lead” with the liberal desire to “do good”. And the issue from the happy marriage? “The US is running out of bombs — and it may soon struggle to make more.”





The other day, reading another extrusion of anti-Russia propaganda (here’s the first example that comes to hand) telling us that Putin and those misguided Russians who support him are wholly and obdurately opposed to America and All It Stands For, I was reminded of Charles Heberle’s contrary experience with Putin and Russia two decades ago.

I met Charles nine years ago in Washington on a trip Sharon Tennison organised. Charles wrote up the following account for Sharon’s website Russia, Other Points of View and I referred to it in my Sitrep 20100506. ROPV is now defunct but Charles still had a copy and I asked him for it so as to reprint it on my site to keep it on the record.

In essence, he was invited to teach Russians how to do it the American way and his program was fully supported by Putin (who had just become President); he believes, and the evidence indicates, that the whole idea might have originated with Putin. It is distressing how much has changed in the 18 years since his story begins.

In short, 18 years ago Putin thought so highly of American democracy in theory and in practice that he supported an American program to teach Russians how to be American-style democrats. From Putin’s perspective, the years since 2000 have seen NATO expansions, broken promises, regime change operations, wars, sanctions, accusations and propaganda, none of which well illustrate the program’s citizenship skills. I rather doubt that he would be so confident today that the American Revolution had succeeded but maybe I’m assuming too much. At any rate, Charles assures me that the program is still being practised in Russia and still has official support.

If you watch his video interview, you will see that the program, while undeniably grounded in the US Constitution, is not exclusively American: it is applicable to most societies. It is a training process, a drill – Charles was in the US Army – that generates situations that force the participants to speak and think for themselves, but (this is the kicker) not in some vapid and complacent “self-esteem” way, but with a humble understanding of their imperfections, The program makes them cooperate with others in a spirit of respect and understanding in order to get the job done. Which, when you think about it, are the requirements for a real democracy to work.

But the main point of my reprinting this is to show that Putin, rather than being the fundamentalist anti-American that the anti-Russia camp tells us that he is, started out supporting the inculcation of what he saw as American virtues (values, if you will: “subjects becoming citizens”) into Russia.

I reprint Charles Heberle’s account as he sent it to me.


Transforming Subjects into Citizens – an Experiment in Russia by Charles Heberle

Many people, when they hear that I have been working in Russia for 9 years, have asked me about the intentions of the Russians. Are they going back to Communism? Do they hate us? Why are they going back to dictatorship? Of course I have no way of knowing the real intention of the Russians, but I get glimpses of it from my experience there. I am writing this article to outline my personal experiences in Russia to help shed some light on these questions.

It started with an email out of the blue in January 2000. It said, “Hello I represent the non-governmental organizations of Northwest Russia. We are unhappy with what your government calls democracy. Our analysis over the past nine years shows us that it will just trade one elite for another. We have had quite enough of this. We want to be country of, by, and for the people. Can you help us?” I was floored. I spent the next 4 months in negotiations with this mystery person, ending with trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. When I arrived I had no idea what I was in for. I quickly learned, however, that Russians don’t do things by halves. The organization consisted of some of the leading intellectual lights of St. Petersburg. They had set up a front organization, researched every web site in the world to find those that purported to teach democracy, invited them to St. Petersburg, and set up a rigorous testing process to make sure they knew what they were doing and that what they were doing would work. I was immediately put through a test where I had complete run of a Russian school for a week and the director did anything I said. I already had developed and copyrighted a civic education program for schools in the USA, so I simply copied the training. This process continued for a year. During that time I spent about 8 weeks in St. Petersburg attending conferences, undergoing a thesis type defense where I was grilled by 5 professors for about two hours, and then more demonstrations in different types of schools. I passed.

They then gave me my mission statement. It was “To help us build a training program that will distill the attitudes, understandings, and skills learned by the American colonists from 1620 to 1775 that made the American Revolution successful where others failed.” They said they wanted to inculcate those values and understandings and skills in their people too so that democracy could flourish in Russia. They felt that until the populace at large was trained no democracy was possible. They feared that simply creating a democratic form of government and some NGOs to work in the field would lead to a “velvet oligarchy”, or worse. They wanted to be a “normal”, that is western, nation of, by, and for the people but could not afford to wait 150 years for their people to understand the process. They wanted me to help them build a training system that could change the mindset of the entire Russian populace from being “subjects” to becoming “citizens” in a generation.

They then sent me to a province near St. Petersburg where we could develop this program without great publicity and opposition and where it could be tested and tried before taking it nationwide. I spent two years there in the capital city giving classes to teachers and monitoring the development of the lesson plans which at that point were all for schools. They gave me the head teacher of the province as my team leader and we rapidly developed a volunteer corps of 200+ teachers who helped develop the program. The program was enthusiastically received and fully supported by the Minister of Education whom I briefed regularly on its progress. Then an election was held in 2003 and the Governor of the province was re-elected. The Minister called us in the next week and the teachers were asked why they supported our program. They said, “Because it is simple, but wise”. The Minister said, “Fine, you are no longer experimental, have a 5 year plan on my desk by Monday.” It was Friday. This resulted in the approval of an official far reaching plan that went way beyond schools and was to end up training the whole population.

The next year our city had a forum, sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry, to explore ways that democracy could be furthered through people to people contacts. I was a featured speaker and the Russian NGO that we had helped form was in charge of a sub-forum on civic education. The next day, at that sub-forum, we had a large number of people. I was asking my staff where they were all from and they pointed out all of the visitors from Russia and other countries, except one. I said, “Who is he, a new teacher here?” My team leader, with a look of concern on her face, said “We don’t know.” Having learned that, in Russia, everything is known, I was a little concerned too. At lunch I approached the man and, in my halting Russian, thanked him for coming. He replied in fluent English and said he was President Putin’s personal advisor on civic education. We then had lunch together and I explained what we were doing, that I was here at the invitation of Russia and if he had any suggestions or wanted us to do anything differently to please speak up. He said he was very pleased with what he was seeing and that it was exactly what Russia needed. We then talked about things military and it became clear that he had a lot of high level and formerly top-secret information about the breakup of the Soviet Union. Without talking about things that were Top Secret on our side when I learned them, I can only say that his knowledge was far above that of a foot soldier. I have no doubt that he had good connections within the Kremlin at some time or another. He closed the conversation by asking if I would like to meet then-President Putin’s close associate Sergei Ivanov some time, as he would be glad to arrange a meeting. I said thank you, no as I felt sure Mr. Ivanov had better things to do. At the end of the day he came up to me again and gave me his personal email and telephone number in Moscow and said to come and see him anytime and to call him if we ran into any trouble.

I visited him in Moscow later and asked why they could not fund me directly if they were pleased with the program. He said that Mr. Putin’s team was performing a delicate balancing act between competing factions in the Kremlin and that they had to appear scrupulously neutral. Any outright support of a program run by an American would be seized upon as favoring one side over the other, and so, while they appreciated my work, they could not be seen to support it outright. I said that if they could at least give us a small amount of support to show the locals, some of whom thought of the program as “American”, that it was approved. Within a month we got a call directly from the President’s office to tell us we had been awarded a small grant to promote civil discourse and improve race relations in the province. It came down through channels signed, V. Putin. There has never been any political opposition to the program since.

These specific events and the fact that there has been strong and continuing official support of the program from the start have convinced me that the Russians do want to become a democracy. They also want to do it the Russian way, which is to say plan it thoroughly, follow the plan, and do it on a large scale. Nowhere have I seen them deviate from this in action. Maybe their words are confusing sometimes, and no doubt aimed at a particular audience, but their actions over time are entirely consistent with the goal stated to me in St. Petersburg in 2000.

In retrospect it has become clear that the Russian group was started at the request of Mr. Putin, who had just become President. This accounts for the complete and continuing support of the Russian governments at all levels which is key to its success there and why it delivers so much value for dollar. We were able to train a whole province for one-fifth of what USAID spent on one city in southern Russia. The fact that our program was born out of frustration with the USA’s then and current methods of teaching democracy, which had failed for them, accounts for the fact that it has a completely different basis from the current approved USA methods of teaching democracy – one that is much more useful and effective because it is designed by a first world, highly educated, group of former dictatorial subjects who know their problems in achieving and see this as the best way to solve them.

This makes it extremely difficult to get our part of it funded by the bureaucracy here in the United States. Our goal now is to get additional seed funding from this Administration and/or private foundations to help the Russians expand the program to about 40 million people in NW Russia over 5 years, which would then solidify it. It would also give us a tried and true and extremely well-planned and documented program to use in other former dictatorships. As it were, our program (and Putin’s too, as I have learned) is an attempt to “reset” Russians so that, rather than being resentful subjects of an inimical power, they become participating citizens of a res publica. They all need this before they can become true democratic republics.

All these experiences and watching the Russian hierarchy from the inside convince me that they are serious about becoming a normal western country and have a long term plan for doing so. Thus the current reforms come as no surprise. If my experience is any guide, the Putin/Medvedev efforts are part of a continuum. Maybe someday it will be Russia that teaches the world how to build a democracy.














(First published at http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2018/05/was-gehlen-a-fraud-by-patrick-armstrong.html)

For some years I have wondered about Gehlen and I have written this up for SST in order to get the opinions of such a well-informed group on the two questions I ask at the end.

Reinhard Gehlen (1902-1979) was a German General Staff officer who in July 1941 was assigned as senior intelligence officer to the Fremde Heere Ost (Foreign Armies East) intelligence section of which he took command about a year later. In April 1945 he was fired (or more likely, seeing the way things were going, quit) and resurfaced in May, surrendering to the US Army and offering his knowledge and organisation to the victors. His offer was accepted, his past and the past of his group cleansed, and eventually the Gehlen Organisation became the nucleus of the West German intelligence organisation and he became its boss. Wikipedia tells us he was forced out of that position in 1968 because his organisation had been penetrated by the Soviets and because of “poor leadership”. For an anti-Soviet specialist, he did run a pretty sloppy outfit: vide Heinz Felfe, a Soviet agent who was brought into the Gehlen Organisation quite early in its history. He wrote a book in which he justified all this which I read years ago. Which all contributes to the question that I am asking you to comment on.

But before I get to the question, a vignette in a railway car in Finland. On 2 June 1942, a year after the German attack on the USSR, Hitler invites himself to Marshal Mannerheim’s 75th birthday celebration. The Finns record the first eleven minutes of their conversation before the Germans catch them and the recording exists. This bit sets the scene:

They have the most monstrous armament that is humanly conceivable (‘menschendenkbar’)…so…if anybody had told me that one state… if anybody had told me that one state can line up with 35.000 tanks (Hitler uses the word ‘tank’), I had said ‘you have gone mad’…

Hitler continues expressing his astonishment at the Soviet armaments industry, complaining that the Germans have only “good weather armament”. After other remarks indicating that he is beginning to realise that he is in a contest Germany cannot win, the recording ends.

All of which leads me to this observation: German intelligence on the Soviet military was poor.

If we look at the whole course of the war we see that almost all the surprises come from the Soviet side. While the initial attack surprised the Soviet leadership (although it did have quite a bit of intelligence of the coming attack), after that it’s almost always the Germans who are surprised. Hitler’s dumbfounded comments to Mannerheim shows there was no conception of the scale of Soviet industrial production, to say nothing of its surge capacity. David Glantz has convincingly argued that unexpected resistance in the Battle of Smolensk sealed the end of the hope of a quick victory. The appearance of unknown divisions in front of Moscow (thanks to a Soviet intelligence coup) in the winter of 1941 was a surprise. The Stalingrad counter-attack was a surprise. The Soviets almost seem to have been aware of the Kursk battle plans before the German front line commanders were and again the counter attack was a surprise. Operation Bagration, perhaps the biggest military operation in history, while the Germans were expecting something, was another shattering surprise.

So, in a word, the Russian military intelligence has many surprises to its credit while Gehlen’s FHO… not so many intelligence successes. (And taking Hitler’s rant to Mannerheim into account, not at the beginning either.)

The Americans and the other Western allies were delighted with Gehlen’s offer. Washington in particular had very little knowledge of the Soviets; indeed the FBI seems to have been only dimly aware that one of the most important Soviet defectors ever – Aleksandr Orlov – was living quietly in the USA. The British had some intelligence from earlier times from people like Bruce-Lockhart or Reilly but that was long out of date and it is unlikely that they had much in 1945. And, as we now know, British intelligence was practically a branch plant operation of Moscow Centre. Neither France nor Canada (Gouzenko was September and had nothing much to offer on the Soviet Army) would have had anything to offer. So they were very happy to take up Gehlen’s offer – a whole network of agents, knowledge, historical records, reputation and interrogation data: a treasure trove; offered for nothing except making the Nazi past disappear. One must assume that the Gehlen organisation became the primary source – if not the sole source – of information on the USSR’s military.

I can’t now find the reference but I remember being told by a specialist that there was an important meeting in the late 1940s chaired, as I recall, by Field Marshal Montgomery, that discussed what the nascent Western Alliance could do against a Soviet attack or military threat. The meeting assumed (I recall) that the Soviets could field 150 divisions on fairly short notice for an attack. The Western Allies couldn’t possibly muster anything like that number. The conclusion was that any attack from the USSR could only be stopped by nuclear weapons. Who could have been the source of the 150 division figure other than Gehlen?

Now it is true that, in whatever country the Soviet Army had ended the war, “elections” were held in which socialist or communist parties came to power and stayed in power. (Austria being an exception). There were at least two ways that one could understand this extension of Soviet power. One was that they were the actions of an expansionist hostile power that fully intended to go all the way to Cape Finisterre if it could and, if not prevented, would. In such an case the Western Allies would be fully justified in forming an defensive alliance to deter Soviet expansion. The other possible interpretation was that, after such a hard victory in so fearfully destructive a war, Moscow was determined that never again would its neighbours be used as an assembly area and start line for the forces of another Hitler. Such an interpretation would call for quite another approach from the Western Allies. We all know which of the two interpretations was followed by the Western Allies. And who else would have encouraged that interpretation than their new expert on all things Soviet?

So we find two extremely important founding Cold War decisions taken right at the start: that Moscow was expansionist and that the Soviet Army was so powerful that nuclear weapons gave the only hope of stopping them. Each decision might well have been taken without him but it is surely reasonable to see Gehlen’s hand in both.

So I have the following questions:

1. Did Gehlen actually know anything about the Soviet Armed Forces or was he basically winging it all along?

2. How influential was he in setting the course of the Cold War towards hostility and away from cooperation?


First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/02/why-moscow-foreign-philosophy-is-westphalian.html
These days there are two styles of foreign policy being practised; Paul Robinson here describes them: one is a “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. In the other style, there are said to be two kinds of states: “the just and the unjust”; they are not “legally or morally equal”. Others have called the second “idealism” or “moral diplomacy”. There is a continuous tradition of the USA regarding itself as quite a new category of country as recounted here and so the moralistic stance is sometimes called “Wilsonian” after the President who wished to “teach the South American republics to elect good men” but it’s quite bipartisan: witness the “Roosevelt Corollary” in which Theodore Roosevelt arrogated to the United States of America, as a “civilised country”, the right to intervene “in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence”. Neither of these approaches is new: there have always been countries that have believed that their gods gave them the mission of instructing and disciplining their neighbours and there have always been countries that were content to leave others alone.

The moralistic position is erected on the assumption that the speaker’s country is virtuous; that its virtue is evident and demonstrable: that its virtue is a fact. The lack of virtue of the other country is also a fact. Some countries are virtuous and others are not and the virtuous ones are permitted to do things the others can’t. Not assumption but reality; not hope but realisation; not relative but absolute; not subjective but objective. Stated that baldly, one wonders how any adult can believe such a thing. But they do. And with straight faces too:

Our children need to know that they – the citizens of the exceptional country, the most powerful, good and noble country in the history of mankind.

Most of all, America is indispensible — and exceptional — because of our values… The world looks to us to stand up for human rights, LGBT rights, religious and ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities and people everywhere who yearn for peace. We challenge ourselves and other nations to do better.

How fortunate that the best and noblest country in human history is also the most powerful! The United States is the current headquarters of the notion that some (or is it only one?) countries are “exceptional” and operate under different, but higher, standards than mere ordinary ones. In the last couple of decades the idea has spread throughout the Western world generally via, as Robinson observes, the (self-awarded) distinction of “those who respect and those who don’t respect human rights“. The West, it need hardly be said, considers itself to be a respecter.

So some of us are morally elevated and the rest of us are not. Those who aren’t should look to their defences: it’s bad for one’s life expectancy to be on the defaulters’ list as Slobodan Milosevich, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi can attest. It is striking how often this moral superiority is expressed by sanctions and bombing rather than by example, but the morally exceptional can do such things because they are morally exceptional. And, when Milosevic is exonerated, the WMD that was the pretext for Saddam’s overthrow isn’t there and it’s discovered that Qaddafi wasn’t “bombing his own people”, moral purity lets the exceptionalists shrug it off and move on; children die, but in a good cause. Exceptionalists bomb hospitals by mistake; the others do it on purpose.

The “idealistic” camp is led by Washington, while Moscow has come to be the chief spokesman for the “realistic” camp. Practically every speech Putin makes on foreign affairs has an appeal to “multilateralism” or to Robinson’s “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. Here he is in an interview in 2000, but many many times since:

The world cannot develop effectively and positively if one state has a monopoly on taking and implementing whatever decisions it wants… In the history of mankind, such a drive for a monopoly has never ended well. For that reason, we are constantly proposing a different democratic world structure.

There are several reasons why Putin (and Yeltsin before him) calls for the primacy of the United Nations in a multilateral world system. Two are obviously self-serving: Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and, second, it fears that it’s on the Exceptionalist hit list. And, given the predominance of “human rights violations” as justifications for “humanitarian interventions”, the annual condemnatory US State Department human rights report shows it has reason to fear.

But there is another reason why Moscow is dedicated to “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. And it’s one that’s easy to forget:

The USSR spent 70 years pushing an “exceptionalist” foreign policy and it was a bust.

The USSR, as the “world’s first socialist state” was the standard-bearer for the “bright future of mankind”, a novus ordo seculorum, even a new type of human – “новый советский человек“. It was the exceptional country, it was the “most good and noble country in the history of mankind”, it was the leader of “people everywhere who yearn for peace”. It intervened all over the world in support of its self-awarded moral superiority. National Communist parties echoed Moscow’s superior wisdom. The German Communist Party collaborated with the Nazis to weaken the Weimar Republic. Why? Because socialism would prevail when Weimar went down. But it didn’t: the Nazis prevailed and the USSR paid a mighty price for their triumph. Cuba, a socialist state (“The Island of Freedom”), had to be supported by the Leader of World Socialism. That support brought the world close to a nuclear war. Any little movement that called itself socialist called for Moscow’s help, even countries the Politburo’s decrepit members had never heard of. They had to be provided with weapons, loans, aid and diplomatic support. It would have been impossible for the World’s First Socialist state not to intervene in Afghanistan when the so-called socialist government there began to wobble. Once socialist, socialist forever:

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

How could the USSR avoid lending money or weapons to any state that said it was socialist? Peace movements had to be infiltrated because theory said that only socialism brought peace. Being exceptional has heavy obligations:

More than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free. (John Kennedy actually, but Brezhnev probably said something like it, although at greater length.)

And it all came to nothing. Consider, for example, Poland. The USSR liberated it from the Nazis who had killed off about a fifth of the population; Stalin redrew the map so that, for the first time in history, all historical Poland was united and that territory was almost completely ethnically homogeneous. The USSR intervened in Polish politics and civil life for four decades by enforcing, as it believed it was morally obliged to do, the “bright future of mankind” to the expected benefit of the Polish people. Or so the exceptionalists in the Kremlin said. And with what result? The moment it became clear that the tanks weren’t coming, Poland threw off the Soviets, the alliance and the whole socialist package. And so throughout the other Fraternal Socialist States. It was a bubble. Exceptional countries have no friends because they have no equals, they can only have clients; but clients have to be fed or coerced.

The Russian Federation, as the successor to the USSR, inherited what it owed and what it was owed. But there was a big difference: the debts were real; the credits were not. Russia has paid all that it owed and written off most of what it was owed. In the case of Cuba, in 2014 Putin wrote off $32 billion in debt. The USSR had lent money to African “socialist” countries – as Leader of the Socialist World how could it refuse? Putin just wrote off $20 billion of that. And so on. Exceptionalism was money down the hole.

In 1987 a short piece by Yevgeniy Primakov appeared in Pravda: “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy”. Essentially it argued that the USSR’s foreign policy had been a failure: it had reduced security and was bankrupting the country. After 70 years of exceptionalism, what was left? No friendship, often the opposite. No monetary profit, just costs. The Leader of the Socialist Bloc and the Bloc itself evaporated as if they had never been. It was all for nothing. And worse than nothing: here’s Putin himself in 1999:

For almost three-fourths of the outgoing century Russia lived under the sign of the implementation of the communist doctrine. It would be a mistake not to see and, even more so, to deny the unquestionable achievements of those times. But it would be an even bigger mistake not to realise the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for that Bolshevist experiment. What is more, it would be a mistake not to understand its historic futility. Communism and the power of Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. Communism vividly demonstrated its inaptitude for sound self-development, dooming our country to a steady lag behind economically advanced countries. It was a road to a blind alley, which is far away from the mainstream of civilisation.

“Outrageous price”. “Historic futility”. “Inaptitude”. “Steady lag”. “A road to a blind alley”. Nothing: no money, no friends, no power, no prosperity. Nothing: neither at home nor abroad.

Moscow knows the exceptionalist road is “a road to a blind alley” because it wasted 70 years on that road. However imperfect and irritating the “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities” may be, Moscow knows that “idealism” is completely worthless.

It’s worth observing that the “Westphalian system” is named after the several agreements in 1648 that ended the religious wars in Europe by accepting the principle of cuius regio, eius religio or that each state would be allowed to do things its own way. In other words, Westphalianism was accepted only after idealism had burned everything to the ground.

It’s an old lesson that Russia has learned but Washington, with its still-large purse, hasn’t. Yet.





(Now that the book is out I publish my entry. Most of the people who wrote their “how I got here” sections were awakened by the relentlessly one-sided coverage of Russia by the MSM: they suspected that it couldn’t possibly be that one-sided and started looking.

Putin’s Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls Kindle Edition; Phil Butler (Author), Patricia Revita (Illustrator), Pepe Escobar (Foreword)

I started work for the Canadian Department of National Defence in 1977 in the Directorate of Land Operational Research of the Operational Research and Analysis Establishment. I participated in many training games in real time and research games in very slow time. The scenarios were always the same: we (Canada had a brigade group in West Germany) were defending against an attack by the Soviet/Warsaw Pact side. In those days NATO was a defensive organisation and, as we later found out, so was the other side: each was awaiting the other to attack. Which, come to think of it, is probably why we’re all here today.

I enjoyed my six years, often as the only civilian in a sea of uniforms, but I realised that a history PhD stood no change of running the directorate so, when the slot opened, I contrived to switch to the Directorate of Strategic Analysis as the USSR guy. I should say straight off that I have never taken a university course on Russia or the USSR. And, in retrospect, I think that was fortunate because in much of the English-speaking world the field seems to be dominated by Balts, Poles or Ukrainians who hate Russia. So I avoided that “Russians are the enemy, whatever flag they fly” indoctrination: I always thought the Russians were just as much the victims of the ideology as any one else and am amused how the others have airbrushed their Bolsheviks out of their pictures just as determinedly as Stalin removed “unpersons” from his.

That was November 1984 and Chernenko was GenSek and, when he died in March 1985, Gorbachev succeeded. While I didn’t think the USSR was all that healthy or successful an enterprise, I did expect it to last a lot longer and when Gorbachev started talking about glasnost and perestroyka I thought back to the 20th Party Congress, the Lieberman reforms, Andropov’s reforms and didn’t expect much.

In 1987 two things made me think again. I attended a Wilton Park conference (the first of many) attended by Dr Leonid Abalkin. He took the conference over and, with the patient interpretation of someone from the Embassy, talked for hours. The Soviet economy was a failure and couldn’t be reformed. That was something different. Then, on the front page of Pravda, appeared a short essay with the title “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy” by Yevgeniy Primakov. I pricked up my ears: a new philosophy? But surely good old Marxism-Leninism is valid for all times and places. As I read on, I realised that this was also something new: the author was bluntly saying that Soviet foreign policy had been a failure, it was ruining the country and creating enemies. These two were telling us that the USSR just didn’t work. As Putin told Stone, “it was not efficient in its roots”.

These things convinced me that real change was being attempted. Not just fiddling around at the edges but something that would end the whole Marxist-Leninist construct. As far as I was concerned, it had been the communist system that was our enemy and, if it was thrown off, we should be happy. Sometime around then I was interviewed for a job at NATO and the question was what, with all these changes, was NATO’s future. I said it should become an alliance of the civilised countries against whatever dangers were out there: the present members of course, but also the USSR, Japan and so on.

Well, that didn’t happen did it? I remember a very knowledgeable boss assuring me that NATO expansion was such a stupid idea that it would never happen. He was wrong too.

In 1814 the victors – Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria – sat down in Vienna, with France, to re-design the world. They were wise enough to understood that a settlement that excluded France wouldn’t last. In 1919 this was forgotten and the settlement – and short-lived it was – excluded the loser. In 1945 Japan and Germany were included in the winners’ circle. At the end of the Cold War, repeating the Versailles mistake, we excluded Russia. It was soon obvious, whatever meretricious platitudes stumbled from the lips of wooden-faced stooges, that NATO was an anti-Russia organisation of the “winners”.

But I retained hope. I think my most reprinted piece has been “The Third Turn” of November 2010 and in it I argued that Russia had passed through two periods in the Western imagination: first as the Little Brother then as the Assertive Enemy but that we were now approaching a time in which it would be seen as a normal country.

Well, that didn’t happen did it?

And so the great opportunity to integrate Russia into the winners’ circle was thrown away.

For a long time I thought it was stupidity and ignorance. I knew the implacably hostile were out there: Brzezinski and the legions of “think” tanks (my website has a collection of anti-Russia quotations I’ve collected over the years) but I greatly underestimated their persistence. Stupidity and ignorance; you can argue with those (or hope to). But you can’t argue with the anti-Russians. Russia wants to re-conquer the empire so it invaded Georgia. But it didn’t hold on to it, did it? No but that’s because we stopped it. Putin kills reporters. Name one. You know, whatshername. Provocative exercises on NATO’s borders. But NATO keeps moving closer to Russia. Irrelevant, NATO’s peaceful. Putin is the richest thief in the world. Says who? Everybody. Putin hacked the US election. How? Somehow.

I quoted Hanlan’s razor a lot – “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. And, stupidity and ignorance there were (a favourite being John McCain’s notion that the appropriate venue for a response to a Putin piece in the NYT was Pravda. And then he picked the wrong Pravda! (But he won’t hate Russia or Putin any the less if he were told that, would he?) At some point I came to understand that malice was the real driver.

I suppose it grew on me bit by bit – all the stupidity converged on the same point and it never stopped; but real stupidity and ignorance don’t work that way: people learn, however slowly. I think the change for me was Libya. I started out thinking stupidity but, as it piled up, it became clear that it was malice. I’d seen lies in the Kosovo war but it was Libya that convinced me that it wasn’t just a few lies, it was all lies. (My guess is that Libya was an important development in Putin’s view of NATO/US too.)

Naive perhaps but, for most of history stupidity has adequately explained things and malice is, after all, a species of stupidity.

So what’s the point of writing? I’ll never convince the Russia haters, and there’s little chance of getting through to the stupid and ignorant. And most people aren’t very interested anyway.

Well, this is where malice meets stupidity. If we consider the Project for a New American Century, the neocon game plan “to promote American global leadership”, what do we see twenty years later? Brzezinski laid out the strategy in The Grand Chessboard at the same time. What today? Well, last year he had to admit that the “era” of US dominance, he was so confident of twenty years earlier, was over. There’s no need to belabour the point: while the US by most measures is still the world’s dominant power, its mighty military is defeated everywhere and doesn’t realise it, its manufacturing capacity has been mostly outsourced to China, domestic politics and stability degenerate while we watch and there’s opioids, spectacular debt levels, incarceration, infant mortality, недоговороспособны and on and on. Donald Trump was elected on the promise to Make America Great…. Again. Hardly the hyperpower to lead the globe is it?

The Twentieth Century was the “American Century” thanks to limitless manufacturing capacity allied to great inventiveness anchored on a stable political base. What is left of these three in 2017? Can America be made “great” again? And wars: wars everywhere and everywhere the same. And what other than malice has brought it to this state? Malice has become stupidity: the neocons, Brzezinskis, the Russia haters, the Exceptionalists, scheming “to promote American global leadership”, have weakened the USA. Perhaps irreparably.

So, who’s the audience today? The converted and people at the point when a little push can break their conditioning have always been there. But now there is a potentially huge audience for our efforts: the audience of the awakening.

Which brings me back to where I started. Except that it’s the USA this time:


We’re here and we’re waiting for you: you’ve been lied to but that doesn’t mean that everything is a lie.