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Russia and the West: The Tragedy of 1204 Redux

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By:Srdja Trifkovic | August 01, 2014

In April 2008 I published this article on our website (the link is no longer available). In view of the crisis in and over Ukraine and the ongoing overall deterioration of relations between “the West” and Russia, its key points are even more pertinent today – over six years later – than they were then.

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?As the demographic, geopolitical and ideological challenge of global Jihad to the shrinking remnant of Christendom looms ever larger, the West appears hell-bent on cordoning off, fragmenting, and eventually destroying the only Christian power that could and therefore should be its partner in the joint struggle. In the name of lofty ideals, but in truth roused by avarice, blinkered by ideology, and driven by raw cultural prejudice, Western leaders are endangering their own nations by forcing a key potential ally into resentful, and potentially menacing, acceptance of its “otherness.”

No, I am not talking about Byzantium in 1204, although the above description would be apt enough. The tragedy of over eight centuries ago is being repeated with Russia today, not as a farce but as a potentially even greater tragedy.

Back then the endeavor was conducted under the cover of the Fourth Crusade. In the name of Christendom, and with the stated goal of liberating the Holy Land from the Muslim yoke—the existential enemy—the Frankoi embarked on a campaign that had the conquest and sack of Christian Constantinople as its end result. Today the idiocy and hypocrisy is no less audacious, yet depressingly familiar. In the early 2000’s, in the name of “democracy,” a massive joint Euro-American disinformation and electoral manipulation campaign was undertaken to secure the victory of the chosen faction in Geogria, and to try and mould the Ukraine into a mirror image of its morbidly Russophobic western third. In the name of “human rights,” the West is supporting the church-burning, dope-dealing terrorists of Pristina today, just as they had found alibis for the child murderers of Beslan in 2003, ridiculing Russia’s claim to be battling the same enemy that caused 9-11.

With some differences of emphasis—most recently over NATO’s expansion along the Black Sea—the policy-making, academic and media class in Europe and America displays a surprising identity of cultural assumptions and ideological preferences. The tone and substance of their rhetoric and propaganda have been replicated at both ends of the political spectrum—neoliberal and neoconservative—here and abroad.

The totality of U.S.-Russian relations since the fall of the Wall – including the antiballistic-missile shield, the proposed Nabucco pipeline, the demands for Black Sea NATO expansion, designs in Central Asia, recognition of Kosovo, allegations of “human-rights violations” and “backtracking on democracy” inside Russia etc. – reveals a stunning reversal of the two countries’ geopolitical roles.

The Soviet Union came into being as a revolutionary state that challenged any given status quo in principle, starting with the Comintern and ending three generations later with Afghanistan. Some of its aggressive actions and hostile impulses could be explained in light of “traditional” Russian motives, such as the need for security; at root, however, there was always an ideology unlimited in ambition and global in scope.

At first the United States tried to appease and accommodate the Soviets, but then moved to containment (1947), and spent the next four decades building and maintaining essentially defensive mechanisms—such as NATO—designed to prevent any major change in the global balance. By the late 1970’s, the system appeared to be faltering, especially in the Third World.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been trying to rearticulate her goals and define her policies in terms of classic national interests: peace and prosperity at home, stable domestic institutions, secure borders, friendly neighbors. The old Soviet dual-track policy of having “normal” relations with America, on the one hand, while seeking to subvert her, on the other, gave way to naïve attempts by Boris Yeltsin to forge a “partnership” with the US.

By contrast, the early 1990’s witnessed the blossoming of America’s strident attempt to assert her status as the only global “hyperpower.” This ambition was inherently inimical to post-Soviet stabilization and kept Washington from entertaining any suggestion that Russia might, in fact, have legitimate interests in her own post-Soviet backyard. The justification for the new American project was as ideological, and the implications were as revolutionary as anything concocted by Zinoviev or Trotsky in their heyday.

In essence, the United States adopted her own dual-track approach. When Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement was needed for German reunification, President George H.W. Bush gave a firm and public promise that NATO wound not move eastward. Within six years, however, Bill Clinton expanded NATO to include all the former Warsaw Pact countries of Central Europe. Another round of NATO expansion came under George W. Bush, when three former Soviet Baltic republics were admitted—and the process is far from over. Georgia and the Ukraine are off the front burner for now, but not off the agenda. The rationale for NATO’s continued existence was found in the nebulous and eminently revolutionary concept of “humanitarian intervention” used against the Serbs in 1999.

The collapse of Russia’s state institutions and social infrastructure under Yeltsin, accompanied by a hyperinflation that reduced the middle class and pensioners to penury, was a trauma of incomparably greater magnitude than the Great Depression. Yet its architects—Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov—were hailed in Washington as “pro-Western reformers,” and their political factions and media outlets were duly supported by the U.S. taxpayers, by way of a network of quasi-NGOs. The wholesale robbery of Russian resources by the Moscow oligarchs and the fire sale of drilling concessions to the oligarchs’ Western cohorts became a contentious issue in U.S.-Russian relations only a decade later, with the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Likewise, although there was no evidence that Anna Politkovskaya was killed on Putin’s orders, the U.S. media immediately jumped to that conclusion in November 2006. By contrast, when a nationalist opposition leader was gunned down in May 2007 in would-be NATO candidate Georgia—the fiefdom of Mr. Bush’s good friend Mikhel Saakashvili—the event was ignored in the U.S. and barely mentioned in Europe.

While never missing an opportunity to hector Russia on democracy and criticize her human-rights record, the United States has been notably silent on the discriminatory treatment of large Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics In Latvia and Estonia, the Russians are subjected to, arguably, the worst treatment of any minority group by a member of the European Union, or (with the exception of Turkey) of NATO. As Anatol Lieven of the New America Foundation has warned, Latvia and Estonia “have been allowed by the West flagrantly to break promises made before independence.”

Washington views Russia as a state with limited sovereignty even within her post-Soviet borders. Chechnya was the obvious example: The White House routinely condemned Russian “violations” while demanding “dialogue” and studiously refraining from designating the Chechen child-slayers as “terrorists”; but no other aspect of Russia’s domestic policies, from education (“ethnocentric”) and immigration (“restrictive”) to homosexual rights (“appalling”) and jurisprudence (“corrupt”), has escaped scathing criticism.

That a “democratic” Russia must be subservient domestically and externally to U.S. demands is accepted on both sides of the U.S. duopoly. George Soros warns that “a strong central government in Russia cannot be democratic” by definition, and further says that “Russia’s general public must accept the ideology of an open society. “Democracy” thus defined has more to do with one’s status in the ideological pecking order than with the expressed will of one’s electorate—which meshes nicely with the Leninist dictum that the moral value of any action is determined by its contribution to the march of history. To wit, Putin’s approval rating in excess of 70 percent [80 percent in 2014] is cited as further evidence of his populist demagoguery...

In the end Russia will survive, says Anthony T. Salvia, a former senior official in the Reagan administration. Ex-Cold Warrior now sees that Russia has no choice but to stand up to America: “Sooner or later, U.S. foreign policy will collide with reality… and Washington, shorn of its ideological blinkers, will finally embrace the foreign policy imperative of the 21st century: solidarity and strategic cooperation between the United States, Europe and Russia on the basis of their shared Christian moral, intellectual and cultural traditions.” This is the way forward in the face of profound challenges from a rising China and resurgent Islam. Or, as I’ve been saying ever since September 11, it’s time for a true Northern Alliance.

In reducing Russia to a land-locked Muscovy from without and subverting it from within, “the West” is acting irrationally and to its own detriment. It appears like it cannot help doing so, as if Samuel Huntington’s notion of “civilizational blocks” determines Western attitudes to the Orthodox East. The identity of the East European Christians came to be deemed irrelevant at best, an obstacle at worst. Those peoples lost so much—under the Ottomans and the Communists—that their survival, let alone revival, was scarcely imagined but a decade ago, except on Western terms, as faithful imitation of, and absorption in, the postmodern, post-Christian, postnational “West.” In 1204 the Frankoi demanded compliance. Likewise, in the ongoing replay, any gap between the Sorosite Left and imperialist Right, the United States and Europe, and between Europe old and new, disappears completely. This is the only crusade that the Muslims can support with glee. It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.

The madness known as the U.S. foreign policy is an amorphous beast with many names that demands engagement abroad and wide-open doors at home. Both abroad and at home, the impulse is neurotic; its justification, gnostic. It reflects the collective loss of nerve, faith, and identity of a diseased society, producing a self-destructive malaise that is literally unprecedented in history. The intoxication is the arrogant belief, in general, that our reason and our science and our technology can resolve all the dilemmas and challenges of our existence, and, in particular, that enlightened abstractions—democracy, human rights, free markets— can be spread across the world and are capable of transforming it in a way that would ultimately turn Yusufs into Joes.

Both the madness and the intoxication have a “left,” essentially Wilsonian, narrative (one-world, postnational, compassionate, multilateralist, therapeutic) and a “right,” or neoconservative one (democracy-exporting, interventionist, monopolar, boastfully self-aggrandizing). Though differing in practice, both outlooks are utopian and firmly rooted in the legacy of the Enlightenment and the rejection of any power independent of “the market” and the ostensible will of the multitude. Both hold that Man is naturally good and improvable, that human conflict is unnatural and vanquishable, that chaos and bloodshed around the world are primarily the fruits of some flawed policies of the West (Wilsonians) or the result of our insufficient “engagement” (neoconservatives). ??The former find remedies in endless self-examination, in the supranational mechanisms of “collective security” controlled by themselves, and in the promotion of “dialogue” with every Third World tyrant and madman, for as long as he declares a grievance against us. The latter rely on the use of force to impose their benevolent global order on a supposedly grateful pre-postmodern humanity. Both are united in their loathing of the realist view of America not as an ever-expanding empire but as a republic with definable borders and interests rooted in her history, culture, and tradition. When a realist warns of the Hobbesian nature of the real world and advocates national interest as the foundation of this country’s external affairs, they both cry in unison, “Isolationism!” or some other ism.

It is incorrect to describe Wilsonianism and neoconservatism as two “schools” of foreign policy. They are, rather, two sects of the same Western heresy that has its roots in the Renaissance and its fruits in liberal democracy. Their shared denominational genes are recognizable not in what they seek but in what they reject: polities based on national and cultural commonalities; the building of durable institutions and independent economies; in other words, they converge in their rejection of all that post-Soviet Russia stands for.

Both view all permanent values and institutions with hostility. Both reject any political tradition based on the desirability of limited government at home and nonintervention in foreign affairs. Both claim to favor the “market” but advocate a state capitalism managed by the transnational apparatus of global financial and regulatory institutions. Far from being “patriotic” in any conventional sense, they both reject the real, historic America in favor of a propositional construct devoid of all organic bonds and collective memories. The two sects’ deep-seated distaste for the traditional societies, regimes, and religion of the European continent is manifested in their visceral Russophobia. Both Wilsonians and neoconservatives are united in opposing democracy in postcommunist Eastern Europe, lest it produce governments that will base the recovery of their ravaged societies on the revival of the family, sovereign nationhood, and the Christian faith.

Inevitably, they have joined forces in creating and funding political parties and NGOs east of the Trieste-Stettin Line that promote the entire spectrum of postmodern isms that have atomized America and the rest of the West for the past four decades. From Bratislava to Bucharest to Belgrade, both present the embrace of deviancy, perversion, and morbidity as the litmus test of an aspirant’s “Western” clubbability. Ultimately, both sects share the Straussian dictum that the perpetual manipulation of hoi polloi by those in power is necessary because they need to be told what is good for them.

The global power of the neoliberal-neoconservative regime is unlikely to be broken incrementally by an America gradually coming to her senses. It will indeed be broken, but the price will be paid in Middle American blood and treasure. We cannot know when and how this will happen—but happen, it will. We cannot know what will be the theme of after-dinner discussions a hundred years hence, but we do know it will not be the global grandeur of the liberal-democratic-capitalist Pax Americana.

Comments

 

 
Miles Pilkington
Las Vegas
8/2/2014 01:42 PM
 

  I would love to see Enlightenment modernism come crashing down, but I doubt Russia is our champion. The reality is Russia is the abortion/alcoholism capital of the world and it's run by uber-wealthy oligarchs who make their money by taking wealth not by making wealth. The Russian Orthodox bishops, all KGB agents during the Soviet era, are still far too subservient to the oligarchs to be taken seriously as a moral force. I expect Shevchuk will produce more anti-modernist fruit than either Putin or Kirill.

 
 
Connecticut Farmer
Stamford
8/2/2014 03:44 PM
 

  Fascinating article. "C'est plus change" etc. Sad to say, but to date the neo-lib/neo-con "global power" has yet to be broken...and the likelihood is that it won't happen in our lifetime.

 
 
Nenad Radulovich
Peters
8/2/2014 05:37 PM
 

  A masterful analysis, Srdja. Perhaps the most important point you make is the value of this knowledge and understanding for Americans and the West in general as they try to articulate a sound foreign policy towards Russia and Eastern Europe.

 
 
Robert Bruce
8/3/2014 06:35 PM
 

  Putin has his strings by oligarchs, who are just as corrupt as the oligarchs Putin declared war on.. In the mid to late 90's Russia had its own sexual revolution. Alcoholism is still rampant and STDs are a big problem. I am sorry, but over 70 years of nihilsim/materialsim isn't going to go away in the matter of a decade or two, especially if the alternative that is offered is more decadent than what you already have.

 
 
Kevin Quintal
Charlottesville
8/3/2014 09:55 PM
 

  "discriminatory treatment of large Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics" What discriminatory treatment? Doesn't strike me as worse than what the Mexicans go through in the USA. But that wouldn't justify an invasion by the Mexican military. Ukraine is not only in Russia's "near abroad" it's also in Europe's. Putin really hasn't given the Europeans many options. Ukraine also has it's own "national and cultural commonalities" which the Ukrainians feel the Russians would crush.

 
 
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