Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russia: A Study In Paradox And Consistency

As we decipher what went wrong with the US policy on Russia and analyze the conditions that led up to where we are at present, there are some things we must think about before we can draw some intelligent conclusions.

From the time the Soviet Union fell until now, Russia has transformed itself from a communist to a fascist regime. Think about it. In just nineteen short years, Russia has almost completely reversed its traditional position on the political spectrum. Two ideologies that once felt very threatened by each other have occupied space in the Kremlin, in my adult lifetime. And in the interim, there was a brief feeble attempt at operating a democratic republic. But it has failed.

To get the full appreciation of this concept, just imagine a chemical converting itself from an acid to a base. Both compounds are caustic, both can be harmful in their extreme forms. Both can potentially be very dangerous, if not handled correctly. (Feel free to read or reread an earlier post I called The Political PH Scale for more.)

Communism and fascism are terms that are generally accepted as economic in nature, but in some instances they are applied to the political sciences. In some areas they compare, others they contrast.

Under communism as we have known it in our lifetimes, economic theory was based on state control. Prices were set by the government under the doctrine known as "central planning". Converting to a free market economy was a difficult task for Russia, since only socialism was permitted to be taught in schools for seventy years. Economists had trouble grasping the simplest of concepts, like price setting.

The political system under Soviet style communism was rigidly controlled, there were no free elections, and in essence was a dictatorship (sometimes monarchical, sometimes oligarchical). It relied heavily on the KGB to squash opposition and keep the people under the heavy hand of the leadership.

Under fascism, private ownership was allowed. Private companies were allowed to exist but only with a watchful eye from above. Governmental approval was still an important component and nothing could be done without it. The businesses were highly taxed for uses deemed to be in the best interests of the state.

Likewise, there were no free elections, life was rigidly controlled, and sported a dictatorship. Hitler used the Gestapo to protect his rule. Mussolini used OVRA. All totalitarians, be they individual or by committee, rely on a secret police component to protect the regime with many bordering on the edge of paranoia as a driving force.

With today's Russia raking in billions in energy revenues, arms sales, and other high profit commodity ventures, they have successfully turned the "central planning" philosophy into quite a successful venture, a corporate state (which is a central theme in most forms of fascism the world has seen in the times of its existence). With Putin serving as supreme potentate, this fulfills the dictatorship requirement despite the fact there was an attempt to put on a show of an election.

With this knowledge and understanding, the case can be made the real enemy here is not the wallet or purse strings, but authoritarianism.

Sure, the case can always be made against socialist economic policies. They are logically flawed and have been proven to stall healthy growth. But in many socialist nations, there are free elections and the people actually elect leaders that echo the will of the people. And in these cases, their desire is usually for more dependency on government.

There is no real freedom in any component of fascism. Sure, they may allow private enterprise to exist in name, but behind the scenes that's about as far as it goes. In other words, under fascism, the government owns it but let's you keep it in your own name. Many person has lost his/her business under Hitler and Putin, by not doing what the government wanted them to do.

But at some time along the way, both systems seek out an imperialist path which is guided by expansive self-interest. Hitler sought to restore Germany to it's former boundaries. Now, Putin seeks to do the same. Both have used nationalism as the central theme for their expansion projects. Both ideologies have a strong nationalist component.

But let's get back to how we got to this point. We can look at this and that, we can point fingers at each other all day long. The fact of the matter remains simple.

What has happened has happened and cannot be changed now.

What is imperative to guide us to a solution is just as simple.

We need to understand what has transpired in Russia and use it to effect a sensible solution. Nothing will ever be solved until people gain these two understandings. So once this educational benchmark can be attained, this is when a real comprehension of what we are dealing with can truly be realized.

The fact remains, this is what real hegemony looks like. This is what a real war for oil looks like. America did invade Iraq and arguments can be made all day long about the prudence of such an undertaking. But that's where it ends.

We did not invade a democracy. We overthrew a brutal blood-thirsty dictator. We did not install our own government, we allowed the Iraqi people determine who would lead them. And now, they are determining their own destiny and we are not actively working to replace them, when we disagree with their self-determined policies.

The same cannot be said for Putin's Russia and his incursion into the Republic of Georgia.


Greg said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Condi yesterday informed a Russian "journalist" that "this isn't 1968." Oh, Condi? We'll see.

I saw a report on CNN last night, produced by one of their russian speaking journalists. He encountered russian stormtroopers pushing deep into Georgian territory, preparing to surround Tblisi. The commander refused to say what the hell he was doing there, but a couple of straglers had a lot to say. They were a couple of Russian soldiers who had fallen back. The reporter said they reeked of alcohol and that they said they were forced to invade Georgia to "protect civilians".

The more things change....

Mustang said...

Throughout their entire history, the Russians seem devoid of quality leaders, which I think reflects core values and a predominant “North man” mindset. While most Scandinavians evolved away from their ruthlessness, the Russians have not. So we should appreciate the fact that the Russians are at least consistent … and this leads me to wonder why how Russian behavior surprises any western leader.

As for our own president, I suppose his ability to see into the souls of men isn’t what it was cracked up to be; maybe Condi Rice should be forced to give up her PhD in Russian Studies. Now, of course, Condi is saying publicly that “we” do not intend to allow Russia to get away with this kind of behavior – and it makes me wonder what she has in mind as a punitive measure. Russia has always isolated itself from the rest of the world, so I cannot imagine denying that country a place setting at the G7/G8 table will have much of an effect. Meanwhile, Russia is busy as a little bee forming alliances among the Muslim states, and given their investment in the nuclear development of Iran, I think we are walking a tightrope over world conflict.

LASunsett said...

//The reporter said they reeked of alcohol and that they said they were forced to invade Georgia to "protect civilians".//

As you say, the more things change, the more things stay the same. It's hard to say who are the good guys here. Take a look at this video.

LASunsett said...

//Condi is saying publicly that “we” do not intend to allow Russia to get away with this kind of behavior – and it makes me wonder what she has in mind as a punitive measure.//

As per our conversation the other day, it makes me wonder what we CAN do about it. This is Europe's theater of operation. They are the one's that are bearing the brunt of an out of control bear. It would seem to me, it should be in THEIR best interests to come up with some ideas that will work.

We cannot sustain a military operation there. Logistically, it would be a nightmare.

We can kick Russia out of every group imaginable, afforded to civilized nations. I doubt that alone would work. We could cut off grain exports and allow their food prices to rise exponentially. That, alone, would bring more resentment from the average Russian citizen and would certainly cross the bleeding heart liberals around the world, saying we are starving poor people.

We can do all of these things, but Europe must be willing to go along with it. As I said they bear the brunt of the oil and gas embargoes that would certainly be implemented as a result of any stern action put into play by us.

Basically, this shows just how worthless NATO is. Let the EU raise its own military and shed the image of peace-loving, flower-loving, art-loving pacifists, and once again look like the Roman empire that ruled the civilized world.

Greg said...

Great video link, LAS. I'm willing to concede the Georgians aren't squeaky clean. Of course, at least they aren't pulling their crap in someone else's country.

rocket said...

Hi Mustang

"Condi is saying publicly that “we” do not intend to allow Russia to get away with this kind of behavior – and it makes me wonder what she has in mind as a punitive measure."

Maybe this for starters

Greg said...

rocket: in yer eye, Czar Putin! Next, we eject them from G8, sign Ukraine and Georgia to NATO, and boycott the 2010 winter olympics. All Krauthammer suggestions. All good....

Screw Russia


Mustang said...


That may be the genesis of Russia’s concern … allowing NATO members to surround, or to allow the encircling nations to host western missile shields and other covert activities is inimical to the interests of the Russian state. Russia understands that the geographical location of most European countries precludes support to the breakaway republics outside of rhetoric … so I think we can look at what has happened in Georgia and acknowledge the warning shot across the bow. Now, it may sound gratifying when McCain tells everyone that “Today, we are all Georgians,” but that doesn’t do much to stop the gunfire or prevent Russians from sinking Georgian coast guard ships. The bottom line (taught to us by Ronald Reagan) is that the Russian bear only understands one thing: a two-by-four across the nose. Unless we are in the position to use that ploy, it would be better for government officials to refrain from making public statements. You will notice how tight-lipped Mr. Bush was after his briefing at the CIA earlier today …