Perhaps I should change the focus of this blog to “Did we Americans learn anything from the Soviet Union?” since the actions of State and Congressional representatives keep pulling me away from Russia. Today’s outrage is a call by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) for the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute the NY Times with criminal charges for publishing stories about the Bush Administration’s secret financial monitoring program. The LA Times published a similar story. Vice President Dick Cheney blasted the papers on Friday for revealing the program. Apparently Cheney and King believe that the press should do their bidding. Sadly the press did for the first four years of the Bush Administration. Now it’s finally pushing back. Well, at least a little bit. Here is what King said according to Editor and Publisher:
Rep. Peter King blasted the newspaper’s decision last week to report that the Treasury Department was working with the CIA to examine messages within a massive international database of money-transfer records.
“I am asking the Attorney General to begin an investigation and prosecution of The New York Times — the reporters, the editors and the publisher,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “We’re at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous.”
The conservative lawmaker called the paper “pompous, arrogant, and more concerned about a left-wing elitist agenda than it is about the security of the American people.”
Notice the tired rhetoric: we are at “war”, the NY Times as “pompous, arrogant”, and “left-wing elitist agenda”. Look how he positions himself and his support for such a program as in the interests and desires of the “American people.” I guess representatives like King expect us to focus all attention of the boogeyman “left-wing elitist agenda” and not the fact that the American government is spying on Americans under the guise of the eternal War on Terror. Why don’t they just stop with all the whining and nationalize the media already. That is clearly what they want.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
Hypochondriacs beware! Swine flu has officially landed in Moscow. According to Novyi region, two women have been hospitalized in the capital. “Both women are citizens of Russia. One of them arrived in Russia from New York yesterday, the second today. They had fevers and were admitted to the hospital by our insistence,” Gennadii Onishchenko told Interfax. Interestingly, in Russia doctors call the virus, which has damned the good name of the pig the world over, “California 0409.” That should make pigs feel better, but what of the sensitivities of us Californians?
Swine flu’s arrival makes Russia the fifteenth country to be infected. The global hysteria sparked by the pandemic has led to altering flights, calls for a mass slaughter of pigs, the quarantining of hotels at the first site of a Mexican tourist, and a whole host of other theories. In Israel, the deputy health minister Rabbi Yakov Litzman won’t even say the word “pigs.” He officially calls the disease “Mexican flu.”
Of course, Mexico, where about 12 people have died and over 300 cases have been identified, has turned into a real life version of Outbreak. Mexico as epicenter has of course inspired our American xenophobes into a fury of anti-immigrant hate. Fox News has predictably led the anti-immigrant charge with accusations that illness is part of some kind of viral conspiracy against America. It is only a matter of time they follow the Israelis in adopting “Mexican flu.”
Experts are still at a loss as to what to expect from the pandemic. It could simply fizzle out or up its body count. If all this really does worry you, I advise reading Anatoly’s breakdown of the disease at Sublime Oblivion.Post Views: 123
By Sean — 10 years ago
Washington Profile has an interesting interview with Professor David Foglesong about his book The American Mission and the ‘Evil Empire’: The Crusade for a ‘Free Russia’ since 1881. I reviewed Foglesong’s book here a few months ago. Below are a few excerpts from the interview that I found interesting and pertinent to understanding where America’s “dark double” stands in the present:
Washington Profile: If we talk about the broader hope of the U.S. reshaping Russia, the United States has had a special mission throughout its history to bring democracy or enlightenment to the world, but you seem to suggest that Russia became America’s special project and as you put it, America’s dark twin. Why is this the case? Why Russia?
David Foglesong: There have been a lot of other countries that have played the role of a foil for American national identity at different moments in time, either as the demonic opposite of the United States or as an object of the American mission. For example, the idea of Christianizing and civilizing China was very important for affirmation of American philanthropic ideals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I would argue that Russia is not unique in that respect, but Russia has more persistently over a longer period of time been seen as both an object of the American mission and the opposite of American ideals and virtues. Why is that? I think that a set of attitudes that we first see in the late 19th century and early 20th century help to explain that. First, the idea that Russia is, despite the differences in the political system and despite the different histories, fundamentally like the United States and is destined to follow in its footsteps. The usual reasons that are pointed to are first, vast size, that Russia occupies a huge continental expanse just as the United States by the end of the 19th century, occupies a huge continental expanse. That supposedly contributes to an expansive personality of the people. Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis comes into circulation after 1893 with the idea that the frontier has been central to the shaping of an American democratic, egalitarian, individualist ethos and the idea comes into circulation that Russia is like the United States in having had a frontier experience. I think ideas like that are important in the presumption that Russia is like America and is destined to become more like America.
Two other factors are race and religion. Russians are explicitly defined as white, even though there are people who have ambivalence about that. I think the dominant understanding, and the dominant view of the crusaders for a free Russia like George Kennan, is that the Russians are white; sometimes they use the term “Aryan” to describe the Russians. That fits into an outlook that the Russians more than Asian peoples are fit to follow an American path to democracy and to a modern economy and to Christianity. There’s a great deal of enthusiasm among missionaries for the conversion of Russians because the idea is that they are nominally Christian. There is contempt for the Russian Orthodox Church as a corrupt, degenerate, backwards, superstitious form of Christianity, but nonetheless the argument goes that the ground has been prepared for the full Christianization of Russia by this background of almost 1,000 years of Christianity in Russia.
If we look at the current situation, you have said the rhetoric from the presidential candidates is unproductive. Has the United States learned anything from these historical experiences?
I think that some within the Bush administration, it seems to me particularly Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have been more realistic, more moderate in their approaches. Not that they have abandoned all hope of encouraging political reform, but they don’t expect the United States to have extraordinary leverage over developments in Russia. They don’t expect overnight transformations and they also don’t veer to the opposite extreme of saying that Putin is reverting back to being a Stalin-like tyrant.
I do think this is somewhat encouraging. What’s disturbing is that you find in American political circles and in American journalistic circles an almost compulsive tendency to demonize figures in Russia that they hold responsible for Russia not becoming just like the United States. I think journalists assume that it is a good thing for there to be checks and balances in a political system, that you should have opposition parties. They assume on the basis of American experience that Russia should be like that and if it is not then it’s something pathological and terribly wrong.
Russia’s historical experience is quite different from America’s historical experience. Division of power doesn’t necessarily have a positive connotation for many Russians. Experiences of times with a division of power, whether it’s between Yeltsin and the parliament in the early 1990s or between the Provisional Government and the Soviet in 1917 are not necessarily positive in Russian historical memory. I think that some recent developments have been regrettable and unfortunate but there is a sort of impulse among American journalists and politicians in a very simplistic way to judge developments in Russian by American standards which may not be appropriate.
Do you see a difference between whether a Democrat or Republican becomes the next U.S. president in term of foreign policy towards Russia?
What I have read so far in the newspapers is not at all encouraging to me. In a piece I wrote for the History News Network a couple of weeks ago I expressed some worry about the direction already of the rhetoric in the political campaign: with McCain’s remarks about Putin, with Hillary Clinton’s really awful remark about Putin not having a soul, and even with Obama’s recent remarks. There is too much of a tendency to use Russia as a political football, to use Russia as foil, as a whipping boy, as a scapegoat. I think it’s really shortsighted to think that in the political campaign Americans can say all sorts of things about Russia’s leaders and not expect it to have reverberations down the road in American – Russian relations. This reminds me of the way that Vice-President George H. W. Bush told Gorbachev in 1987: I’m going to say lots of terrible things about the Soviet Union during the 1988 political campaign but you should just forget about it because it’s just politics.
Do you see any way to break out of this cycle with a new president coming in?
The way I look at it there doesn’t seem to be a broad mass resonance in American society to this kind of demagogic appeal from political candidates. I think in earlier phases when politicians and non-governmental crusaders for Russian freedom like the first George Kennan went out on the lecture circuit and denounced tsarist tyranny they were able to evoke a wider, more enthusiastic popular response. I don’t sense that degree of popular resonance for the kind of rhetoric we’re seeing nowadays.
If you look at the popular reaction to Time Magazine’s making Putin “Man of the Year,” a number of the remarks put on Time’s website were troubling. Americans were saying Putin is evil, how dare you put Putin on the cover, let’s all get together and burn our copies of Time magazine. However, I don’t sense that this is a very widespread popular demonization of Russia, in part because the United States has so many other problems on its plate.
I also think that there has been some sobering up of the expectations that it is in America’s power to reshape Russia in America’s image. I can’t foresee what might happen five years down the road if there are some unfortunate developments in Russia, and if Americans have the ability to focus more on Russia as opposed to the problems of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. domestic economy. The situation could change. For now, I don’t sense that the demagoguery about Putin not having a soul and about looking into Putin’s eyes and seeing only KGB is evoking a broad popular response.
How do Americans, not politicians, view Russia today? What do they most misunderstand about Russia?
I think there are really varied attitudes towards Russia among different elements of the American population. I think that there are people who are involved in the growing trade with Russia who are aware of some promising developments in the Russian economy beyond just the export of fossil fuels, and I think that many of the people in business are inclined not to veer to the two extremes of either expecting overnight democracy along American lines or feeling that there is a regression to Stalinist tyranny.
I do think that among journalists and among some politicians there are the habits and impulses of the past. The New York Times recently suggested it was necessary to revert back to the style of the 1970s, when Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn were among the dissidents that we supported and we amplified their voices. I think there are people in American journalistic circles, especially editorial writers for the Washington Post, who have an emotional impulse to condemn Russia for backsliding on democracy and to overstate the potential menace to the outside world from Russia. Although there have been some troubling developments in Putin’s Russia, such American journalists tend to exaggerate them, to lack historical perspective, and to have unrealistic expectations about the extent of American influence on Russia.
Beyond that, it’s hard for me to say what ordinary Americans think about Russia; I think it’s a complicated and varied picture.Post Views: 157
By Sean — 10 years ago
I usually don’t waste my time with babble but Daniel Silva’s “President Obama and a 3 am Phone Call about Russia” struck a cord. It’s just another example that Russia is one thing American liberals and conservatives can embrace over.
Silva’s argument is simple. “Russia is now a fascist country,” he writes. He hopes soon to be President Obama takes this assertion to heart and “uses his first meeting with Russia’s leader–whether it be Putin or the diminutive Dmitri Medvedev–to deliver a clear and sobering message. Russia can no longer have it both ways. If Russia wants to be a member of the club–that is to say, the civilized world–then it must act like a member of the club.” Oh, God.
I admit it. I read the HuffPost. I enjoy its entertainment reporting and links to newspaper articles. Plus, I kinda have a crush on political cougar Arriana Huffington. I rarely indulge in its political commentary, though. It’s Obama deification is downright annoying. So much so I sometimes feel my bowels struggling to keep my lunch down after even glancing at its gushing pro-Obama headlines. All the hoopla over the New Yorker Obama cover is just one example of how many liberals have forgotten how to laugh (if they ever knew how to) even when the joke is aimed at their political enemies. Get a clue people. This man is not the second coming. He’s not John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, MLK or any other American liberal folk hero. He’s a Democrat and history has shown that the Democrats are pretty damn good, some say even better than the Republicans, at managing American empire.
A telling sign of this is the fact that once again the American presidential debate is not about dismantling the empire but a contest over who will manage it better. Given how the HuffPost is flaunting Obama’s Mideast voyage and how Arab leaders are flocking to speak with the prez hopeful, you’d think that people actually believe all of the Bush Administration’s dirty deeds will simply vanish as soon as Obama sets the imperial crown on his head. I’m not one to make predictions, but I will stick my neck out and predict this: It’s not gonna happen. After all, its not like the Democrats have clean hands in all this. . .
I know, I know, I’m digressing. But I needed to say it, especially to those who might consider me an Obamamaniac.
As for Daniel Silva, he’s just kinda dumb and not even in a charming way. Silva, who is a novelist by trade, has a new book out called Moscow Rules, which according to a blurb on Amazon is an espionage novel and “searing cautionary tale about the new threats rising to the East.” If his storytelling skills are anything like his commentary, Moscow Rules will certainly be a fanciful tale chalk full of sneaky Russians hiding in shadowy alleys look to spring evil on unsuspecting defenders of the free world. I certainly won’t be running to the bookstore. I read enough pulp fiction about Russia from the academic presses.
So does Silva. Or so it seems. His main source of knowledge about Russian affairs comes from a recent “research” trip to Russia and Edward Lucas’ The New Cold War. As for the former, Silva clearly learned nothing. His impressions are sloppy regurgitations of often repeated Western commentary. Complete with observations like: The FSB/KGB “have infiltrated the top ranks of Russia’s government;” “the organization that oversaw the Great Terror, administered the Gulag Archipelago, and locked dissidents away in psychiatric hospitals, is now running Russia;” “Russia would like its empire back. Putin made that abundantly clear in 2005, when, in his state of the nation speech, he referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” Russia is once more attempting to project power. It is using its new found energy muscle to bully and blackmail its weaker neighbors;” “The print media, lively during the Yeltsin years, has also been brought to heel;” and “Any Russian brave enough, or foolish enough, to confront the regime runs the risk of being arrested, beaten, or even killed.” You get the picture.
As for his second “source,” okay granted, I haven’t read Lucas’ book nor will I. His reporting in the Economist and elsewhere is far more bile than I can stomach. Silva apparently buys Lucas’ belief that danger is brewing in the East. Not the east-east, i.e. China, but the good old Cold War east, i.e. Russia. Perhaps even more scary is that Silva thinks that though Lucas’ “sky is falling” rants might be a bit premature, they nevertheless could serve as a Russia primer for Emperor Obama:
And though it would be alarmist for President Obama to start talking about a new Cold War, Edward Lucas, a reporter for the Economist, argues in a persuasive and passionate new book–titled, interestingly enough, The New Cold War–that Russia is already waging it. Lucas warns that the United States and Europe must set aside their differences over Iraq and resuscitate the old Atlantic alliance in order to confront the new threat rising in the East. The Kremlin will attempt to divide any such coalition with its oil and its money, Lucas predicts, but Western European countries must steadfastly resist the temptation to betray the alliance for thirty pieces of Russian silver. Good luck trying to sell that strategy to Russia’s special friends in Germany and Italy.
Ooooh! Good reference to the Axis Powers! All updated and repacked for a new generation! Germany-Italy-Russia! Where did you get that? The History Channel? I wonder if its in his book . . .
But that is not all. He concludes,
Better to challenge the bear now, while it is still a paper one. It might keep that White House telephone from ringing at three o’clock in the morning. And President Obama might be able to get some much-needed sleep.
What a boob. Well, Silva should be happy that Obama has Michael McFaul at his side to advise him in such affairs. His hopes just might come true.Post Views: 113