Thursday, December 27, 2007 10:43 AM
The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 mark a very significant turning point in American history. The attacks took place near the beginning of a new American presidency, and the repercussions have defined that presidency, even self-defined it, one could say. I tried in The Unauthorized World Situation Report to come to grips with what happened on 9/11 and why it happened, to see it in perspective. I saw it in the context of American foreign policy, just like the attack on Pearl Harbor. Neither 9/11 nor Pearl Harbor were bolts from out of the blue. They were entirely predictable outcomes due to foreign policy decisions made in Washington. In a word, blowback.
Another very important date is also relatively recent, but its significance has faded fast. I am referring to August 19th, 1991. This date marks the final crack-up of Russian communism and the demise of the Soviet Union. As such, it meant the end of the Cold War. The Cold War posed a bona fide existential threat. It was assumed that mankind could be annihilated at any moment due to a nuclear exchange. The stand-down from this insanity, which began with the process of perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, was a salutary development for everybody.
America was the leader of what was then termed “the free world”, and the collapse of the Soviet Union was viewed as a victory for America. Along with the termination of the Soviet regime came the collapse of its satellites in eastern Europe, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the unification of Germany. Europe was returning to some kind of normalcy, after two fratricidal world wars brought about by the meddling in European affairs on the part of Whitehall, the White House, and the Kremlin.
What did the end of the Cold War mean and what actually happened in the immediate aftermath? There is one very short section in my book--entitled “Endstation Moscow: August, 1991"--which constitutes a snap introduction to an evaluation of the Cold War. It is partly reproduced below. Both August 19th, 1991 and September 11th, 2001--one date representing a victory, the other a defeat, coming almost exactly a decade apart--offered unique opportunities for American foreign policy going forward. Those opportunities were squandered. As we head into a new year, it is appropriate to take a look back and see if something can be learned from the past. If this is regarded as nostalgia for what might have been, so be it.
On August 19th, 1991 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union attempted to take back control of the Soviet Union. The Communists did not believe in “communism” anymore but, like politicians everywhere, they did believe in their own jobs and staying in power. Under Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of perestroika, freedom of expression, however limited, and free elections, however few and far apart, meant that communist dictatorship would inevitably be coming to an end. Whether Gorbachev realized this or not is another matter.
The party nomenklatura had to take action sooner or later if it were to survive in power. The leaders of the attempted coup had the armed forces and the KGB and millions of communist party hacks behind them. In addition, there was the background of 75 years of communist propaganda and communist control of virtually every aspect of Russian life. It was not enough.
Massive anti-communist demonstrations broke out in Moscow and in St. Petersburg. Elite KGB troops would not follow orders to shoot demonstrators and seize elected officials. In three days, Gorbachev was back in charge at the Kremlin. Within a week, the communist party was outlawed, its property and assets seized. Most republics in the Soviet Union opted to follow the Baltic States, and proclaim their independence. The Russian Empire, which the Bolsheviks had inherited from the Czars and expanded upon, had collapsed like a house of cards.
What did it all mean? It meant that an aberration had run its course, and self-destructed. It meant that Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and scores of other like-minded intelligentsia were preposterous fools with cesspits for brains. It meant that the files of the Lubyanka, the Moscow headquarters of the KGB, would be thrown open for inspection so that we could confirm the crimes and the successes of the Stalin era and learn more about the Soviet successes in America, England and Europe, thanks to an army of communist fellow travelers. It meant more chaos and a bigger mess for years to come in Russia and in the former Soviet Republics.
It should have meant that the U.S. defense budget could be cut tremendously, perhaps in half. It should have meant the start of a total reevaluation of the Twentieth Century. No matter what, it marked the beginning of the end for U.S. domination of Europe.
Strangely, in little more than a decade since the implosion of the Soviet Union and the formal end of the Cold War, the Imperial Presidency in Washington is spinning out of control, the budget of the Pentagon is skyrocketing, and the U.S. Dollar is crashing… Such is the luck, irony and the irrationality of history. But did it really need to be this way? In the wake of the Cold War, the prospects of a golden age of peace and prosperity were within sight, if only for a few moments, before being extinguished...
During the run-up to Gulf War I in 1990, as communism was collapsing in eastern Europe and in Russia itself, somebody in the Administration of George H.W. Bush decided that the U.S. should declare a “new world order”. See President Bush’s speech to a joint session of Congress on September 11th, 1990. It was going to be a unipolar world, with Washington calling the shots. Subsequently, the battle of good versus evil was diverted from the Soviet and the international communist threat to a preoccupation with the Arabs and the Middle East.
As a practical matter, this diversion translated into a self-perpetuating crisis, starting with the Persian Gulf War of January/February 1991 against Iraq. The knee-jerk reaction and disproportionate response by Washington to the intra-Arab dispute between Iraq and Kuwait over borders and oil opened the door to 9/11.
With American troops encamped in Saudi Arabia, supposedly to protect the House of Saud and Saudi oil from Saddam Hussein, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm turned a wealthy Saudi Islamist named Osama Bin Laden into an enemy of the U.S. (after having been an ally in Afghanistan against the Russians) and demonstrated that the Kingdom was a Potemkin village.
Then came the decision by Washington to clamp draconian economic sanctions on Iraq in the aftermath of Desert Storm, and to do it indefinitely, no matter how many civilians got killed as a result. Remember, it was considered to be “worth it”. Concurrently, Bill Clinton was presiding over an eight-year fraud known as “the peace process”, which was a cover story to legitimize the ongoing colonization of Palestine, using American assets and diplomacy. It was all good domestic American politics, and it still is.
This constant stirring of the Mideast cauldron by those in power in Washington led directly to the 9/11 atrocities and, in turn, to Operation Iraqi Freedom and “the war on terror”. These latter endeavors have been executed under the nominal leadership of George W. Bush, but under the direct supervision of the experienced Washington wingnut, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who was assisted by a band of “neocon” ideologues. They were given a free pass to carry out their Likud agenda, which became part and parcel of American foreign policy.
In sum, first came the sidetracking under H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; next, the hijacking under Dick Cheney’s junior partner, G.W. Bush. The current misadventure--the human disaster of Iraq caused by the “war on terror”--can be viewed as the logical result of Washington’s overreaction to the downfall of communism and to events which took place in eastern Europe in the late 1980’s and in Moscow and St. Petersburg on August 19th of 1991.
The triumphalism and grandiosity in Washington highlight this most recent lost opportunity for America’s leadership to regain a sense of proportion and balance. I say “most recent”, because there have been quite a few opportunities, going back to World War I. If forced to choose one word to describe American diplomacy and foreign policy since the days of Woodrow Wilson, my choice would be “unbalanced”.
--Copyright 2007 Patrick Foy--