#2 - JRL 7130
Wall Street Journal
April 3, 2003
Why Russians Want Iraq to Win
By KIRILL ROGOV
Mr. Rogov is a columnist for Vedomosti, a Russian daily newspaper partly owned by Dow Jones & Co.
When the coalition fighting in Iraq began to encounter opposition Russians greeted the news with anything from restrained satisfaction to outright glee. During an analytical news show that aired on TVS, Russian channel six, viewers were asked which side they hoped would win the war. Some 80% said Iraq, despite the fact that TVS targets a progressive, liberal audience.
TV polls can skew reality, of course. But last week, the respected All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion released poll results that confirmed Russians' overwhelming opposition to the war. As many as 45% said they sympathized with the Iraqi government, while only 5% supported the United States. To the pollsters' admittedly leading question: "When it gets right down to it, do you want the American military operation to succeed?" -- 74% answered, "No."
To paraphrase the pollsters' question, when it gets right down to it, what is this really about? Opposition to the war, it seems, has become a proxy for opposition to American dominance in general. Many Russians who root for Iraq are really hoping that a difficult war will humble an America they see as seeking to impose its will on other nations. This reaction demonstrates a misunderstanding among Russians of the war's aims. The result is detrimental to Russian and American interests alike.
Russian leaders, for their part, have shown comparative restraint in their comments on the war. Granted, coverage on Russian state television is unmistakably anti-American in tone. But unlike French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not sought to stoke anti-American sentiment. Mr. Putin's more pragmatic facade starkly contrasts with the fact that in their hearts many Russians are fighting alongside Saddam Hussein's soldiers. Despite such strong views, Russians have only a vague idea of what the war means to the United States. Accounts of America's "real" goals usually mention Iraqi oil (according to the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion poll, 64% of Russians consider oil to be the top U.S. priority), America's desire to assert its political supremacy, and an imputed attempt by Mr. Bush to make Americans forget the ongoing U.S. economic malaise.
This is unfortunate, because the official rationale for war should, in theory, be quite convincing to a Russian ear. After 9/11, the doctrine of "containment" that had long determined the world order became obsolete. The main threat to world order is now posed by marginal regimes that could in the near future acquire weapons of mass destruction. Armed with such weapons, these regimes would command a measure of the respect and influence on the world stage now reserved for nuclear powers, including Russia . Weapons of mass destruction would no longer be the tools of "containment." They would also be the tools of blackmail.
Russians might ask themselves how they would like to wake up one day to learn that Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or Chechen leader Shamil Basayev had gotten his hands on a nuclear bomb. The peculiar nature of this threat is that until some rogue state has acquired these weapons, we all -- under what many interpret as "international law" -- have no choice but to sit and wait. Once they have the weapons, of course, it will be too late to do anything. Put aside for a moment our tendency to believe in our own intellectual superiority, particularly next to the strategists at the U.S. State Department, and we must admit that the logic of the "Bush doctrine" is sound.
But logic isn't what animates the reactions to the war in Iraq. America's assertiveness in pursuing its objectives, talk of "contactless" victory (while Eurasia is used to spilling oceans of blood) and its habit of integrating political goals with economic gain cannot fail to aggravate Russians' national pride and historical memory. It is this deeply rooted anti-Americanism that incites television audiences to vote for the U.S. to lose the war in Iraq. Among these Russians, wishing the U.S. defeat in the Iraqi war is a way of objecting to what is seen as the arrogant use of American power. It is, in fact, a sign of weakness.