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May 16, 2003
Flirting With Anti-Americanism
By Alexander Pumpyansky
from Novoe Vremya

MOSCOW--The diplomacy of the Russian people never ceases to amaze me. Demonstrators had just begun venting their rage over the war in Iraq in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow when the war ended and Baghdad fell.

Just like the good old days, the nation and the party are as one. Where Gorbachev and then Yeltsin failed, Saddam excelled with a vengeance. The Iraqi ruler succeeded in rallying Russian society on a single, anti-imperialist and anti-American platform. Now that he has some free time, maybe we should consider nominating him for president here? With his Iraqi tenure at an end, he could be a fine alternative to the incumbent Putin, who, lets be honest, doesnt always deliver on what he says.

Sheer idiocy I mean no offense to the demonstrators--a motley lot they are, some of them are diehard pacifists taking other peoples affliction too close to heart. And besides, I hate seeing invective in print. With this self-imposed taboo on myself, what should I call the characters who pulled the strings of that aggressive and equally senseless stage-managed antic and then fled the scene at the last moment, no less shamelessly than Saddam fled Baghdad? Do they really think they can scoop up a parliamentary majority and impose their rule on us? They must be daydreaming, they can never pull it off. Why, you may ask? For the same simple reason.

Dont get me wrong--idiocy isnt an insult here, its a medical term for an uncommon illness that attacks genetically predisposed human individuals with pinpoint precision. But more often than not it is a social epidemic, or a wholesale political pandemic.

Why did Baghdad fall so quickly? the daily Kommersant asks knowledgeable people. And receives an answer. One would have to be a psychoanalyst or a psychiatrist to make sense of what those savants say, and the way they say it.

Thats no way to defend your homeland, fumes Colonel-General Yury Rodionov, without a shade of bragging. The Iraqis had all they needed to put up a real fight. A few anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns by the wayside would have been enough to destroy American armor. Take Grozny, for example, remember how many of our troops went in there, with less than half getting out? My point is that only suicide bombers are willing to take a fatal stand. What did we see? Iraqis standing stiffly and brandishing their fists, without a hint of real resistance. Saddam must have had the wrong people around him.

This from a man who waltzed his way to the rank of three-star general. He avoids straight answers to straight questions, firing back unsolicited tips, doubly useless after the event. In a situation requiring a cool head to examine the details, he gives full rein to his emotions. Reference to Grozny as an instructive lesson for Americans made by a Russian general (unless, of course, hes the late breakaway Chechen General Dudaev) is somewhat out of place here. Baghdad is no Grozny and Russian generals are no match for their American counterparts, no two ways about it. General Rodionovs closing remark that Hussein had the wrong people leading his troops is a barrel of laughs.

A psychiatrist would certainly pronounce the general at odds with reality. He must have visions of himself as either a white knight or the Iraqi defense minister. He daydreams of giving the Americans a thrashing, even to the point of reincarnation as a firebomb-wielding Chechen youngster confronting American tanks. Looks like a case of delirium and grotesque incompetence.

You may be curious to know if this is the same general who so disgracefully led the pacification operation in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1989, who was commander of the nations General Staff Academy, and who earned the label of elite general from another general, [Alexander] Lebed, once a popular idol here who was Russias defense minister for a while. It is the very same army general, Igor Rodionov. But hes not alone. Another general, or rather marshal, Dmitry Yazov, also a former defense minister, answers the stock question in roughly the same way: Baghdad has fallen, but the war isnt over and Im not certain the Americans have Iraq in the bag. But then, the Iraqis gave me a real shock: Why dont they defend the city and why are their houses so poorly fortified? With only sandbags piled in front of entrances and them standing behind the bags waving their hands like damned fools.

A big name in armor tactics in big cities, Marshal Yazov lives in a world of dreams. Bad dreams. His detachment from reality, therefore, gave him a shock when he faced facts. The progressive Iraqi people, as the marshal rated them, didnt live up to his high hopes--the Iraqis didnt budge to fight for Saddam and die in the latest mother of all battles, to use Saddams ornate terminology. The Iraqis unwillingness to die earned them the ridicule of the two Russian generals. Sincere, though not politically correct: Youre fools and unbelievable cowards, fit only to wave your fists instead of fighting.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a self-proclaimed authority on Arab affairs and loud-mouthed military expert, views what is happening in Iraq with disbelief. The surrender of Baghdad by Zhirinovskys dictator buddy is, he says, like our actions in 1812, when we threw Moscow at Napoleons feet, only to inflict a humiliating defeat on him shortly thereafter. Theres hardly a more scornful way of dealing with Russian history.

He is almost completely echoed by another wise guy of nearly equal fame, Gleb Pavlovsky. The Americans dont grasp Iraqs strategy, he writes in Moscow News. The capture of Baghdad is a victorious end of the war for them, but for Saddam this may only be the midpoint. We know from our military history that seizing a nations capital doesnt end a war, particularly if the nation is determined to fight on. In terms of the propaganda impact on the Islamic world, the capture of Baghdad may well play into Saddams hands.

Spinning political tales is a far more refined occupation than making war plans. Particularly if this involves someone like the president of the Effective Policy Foundation, if anyone knows what thats supposed to mean. Sure, he had to perform numerous, incredible tricks to reach the categorical conclusion that Hitler could have turned the seizure of Berlin to his advantage. We can only pity this band of politicos, who are performing a thankless task that greatly strains their knowledge, talent, and affable flexibility to delight their clients and the public with one great brain wave after another, which all add up to idiocy if viewed over the long term.

At the peak of the latest Iraq pandemic, anti-American idiocy syndrome spread throughout our dear homeland to cover cities, districts, neighborhoods, research centers, and the mass media.

DONT FORGET TO SHOOT AT YOUR TV. The American soldiers havent killed all the journalists yet, the daily Kommersant screams in huge letters on its front page. And it presses the point further: Coalition forces fighting in Baghdad yesterday bombed the Al Jazeera news station and shot at the Palestine Hotel, where all foreign correspondents covering the war in Iraq are staying. That could only mean the military operation is drawing to a close. Very soon there will be no one left to send reports from Baghdad and the Americans will be able to declare victory.

Without wanting to, the paper told the truth: The Anglo-American coalition was about to wind up military operations. And it also gave us a grim fact: Battlefront correspondents, some of them friends and acquaintances, came under fire, the most awful and disturbing thing to happen in a war. Its also true the last piece of news has nothing to do with the first--the imminent end of the war. The paper plainly plays the fool, feeding us idiocy it expects us to swallow in the fog of war.

We have this lunacy from a news-oriented paper claiming independence from ideology and insisting that it provides only professional reporting. What could we expect from papers more inclined to dabble in public relations and propaganda? Their outbursts are beyond common sense.

Who is the aggressor and criminal today, Saddam or Bush? Who do you want to win, America or Iraq? This either-or question is idiocy at its worst. People asking it should be kept off the streets and out of offices, not so much because they are mavericks haunted by supernatural ideas but because theyre spreading a severe strain of AIDS, acute intellectual deficiency syndrome. Recent probes, or rather polls, that theyve conducted reveal the significant damage their questions have done to the national genotype.

Actually, though, it took more than a few silly questions to do the damage. Throughout the better part of the 20th century, for some 70 years, the national psyche was drugged with an outlandish picture of the world. Now, with personal freedom commonplace, it suddenly dawned on us that at heart most people here take their bearings using old landmarks. For them the USSR, which collapsed more than a decade ago, is still a model for the world to be based on. In stark contrast is the aggressive American imperialism coveting other nations land and oil and wanting to dominate the world. To complete the picture, there are other nations that have thrown in their lot with us and weve taken them under our wing. A mild provocation, not to say a huge one like the Iraqi shock, would be enough for this idiotic picture to revive in the quivering collective subconscious, together with all its implanted prejudices and phobias.

Its absurd to complain about the hazy world the populace lives in. This is the price we must pay for the unfinished job of moral cleansing and the ideological revolution abandoned halfway. A job bungled by the elite.

Theres no one around to draw a new, realistic picture of the world or to find us a place in the new world, or to tie the loose ends of our history together. Though there are people trying to do these things, no progress has been made so far. Instead of driving down the road paved by the West toward a more certain future, our dyed-in-the-wool pragmatists with their first-class degrees, intoxicated by recently acquired power, are obstinately building bridges back to our communist past and hoping, however strongly this may strike us, to mold the party and people again and fuse politicians with the electorate.

The Iraq crisis caught our elite off guard. A discerning connoisseur could have perceived different shades in the official stance. While the Duma pilloried the American aggressors without a moments hesitation, the Foreign Ministry refrained from squeaking a protest. All eyes were on the president as he rapped out a crisp mistake, sending everybody into raptures over the way he avoided classifying U.S. behavior as a crime, as he was expected to do. In a sort of volte-face, he then sent a beautifully veiled signal, for political and economic considerations, Russia is not interested in the USA suffering a reverse. His efforts to preserve appearances merely drove him, and Russian politics, into a corner.

Clearly, the Russian elite (especially those behind Russias foreign policy) have made all the mistakes there were to make. They misinterpreted the causes and magnitude of the Franco-German alliance, mistaking it for a newly emerging global pole good enough for the Russian tricolor to adorn. They thought that once in place, the Americans could be talked into bargaining on Russian terms. They misjudged the fortunes of the impending military action, making themselves believe the Americans would get stuck in Iraq. Or at least get their hands covered in blood. Utterly dazed by the old political cliches, they failed to see that the global agenda in 2003 had changed from what was agreed in Yalta and Helsinki. With the end of the Cold War and new global threats facing the world, the first priority is a new world order and a new international law thats far less conciliatory, but still more humane and less divergent from conventional norms of human morality. More important yet, the Russian elite havent been able to shake off their political misconceptions and phobias. This reminds us of what President Putin said, though in a different context: If I err, I do so with a majority.

The other day I heard a high-ranking official of some international standing say with a smack of self-admiration: We (the establishment) have placed ourselves at the head of the anti-American wave in the country, thus we were able to keep it (the wave or the country) under control. Monstrous logic, I say. Actually, its the other way around. Anti-Americanism in this country hasnt come naturally, its been imposed on us. Instead of trying to cure society of this insanity, our rulers have flirted with it, only to become hostage to it. Thats the biggest and most inexcusable mistake.

Russia faces many problems and ills in 2003. Im afraid theyre all tied in a knot that is difficult to unravel, if at all--the inadequacy of our ruling elite. Theyre unaware of changes in the world because they know nothing about the world we live in or even what the nation needs. The political stand on the Iraq crisis is only inadequacy taken to its idiotic extreme.

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