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America’s shrill, expanding demonization of Putin, Obama now equating Russia and Ebola as paired dangers in the modern world, follows from its ideological-structural matrix of decline as the unilateral military-economic leader of the international order. Decaying societies don’t fare well in global history, especially when the inner rot of the political culture erodes the foundations of reason, moral principles, and humaneness, precisely where America now finds itself. The inner rot is not merely capitalism per se, although that gets it off to a good start because in practice characterized by petrifaction in the face of challenge and dissenting opinion, but capitalism as it presently exists in America, where the fear of social transformation (i.e., anything which jeopardizes the power of ruling groups, questions Authority, or otherwise destabilizes class relations) has yielded systemic militarization to keep capitalism on pace and secure. And even the militarization of capitalism, generally adequate to normalizing conditions of fascism, emergent or full-blown, in America has a particularity distinguishing the society from all others: its fusion of Exceptionalism and counterrevolution (each needed to sustain the other) dressed up in the language of liberal or humanitarian intervention in world affairs.
Marx is somehow surpassed by present-day Imperialistic reality, so that not even the structuring of the political economy along monopolistic lines, nor the central importance of the commodity in shaping social relations and reaching down to the epistemological level in governing human thought (for both, vitiating authenticity at its social and individual roots, the replacement of use value by exchange value), does not go quite far enough in understanding how capitalism has evolved in America to what it now has become: a menace to human dignity at home and to the striving for universal peace abroad. It is the latter, however, which interests me here. Demonizing Putin is thus symptomatic, not of an assessment of the world situation, but of the dimly-perceived yet nonetheless real awareness that societal decline, unless there is a fundamental course corrective (which seems unlikely), has set in and appears to be irreversible. Hence, the dangers inhering in slowly-building desperation.
Putin, I believe, sees this. His address, to the Valdai International Discussion Club, XI session, in Sochi, attended by 108 scholars and political analysts from 25 countries (including 62 foreign participants), had as its theme this year, The World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules. His address, which takes up that theme, is to me of epochal significance, standing on a plane with the Marshall Plan speech and the announcement of the Truman Doctrine since World War II, and substantively, better crafted and offering far deeper insights into the organization of the international system as well as Russia’s place within it. Full disclosure: I am impressed. This does not make me a stooge of Soviet Communism, however much this reification of Cold War propaganda still exists. Having been called a self-hating Jew because of my last CP article, on demonstrations over the Met production of “Klinghoffer,” I am now reconciled to being called a self-hating American because of my favorable analysis of Putin’s address contained herein.
It is easy to appear contrarian when one sees the way The New York Times and The Washington Post covered the address, scare headlines and all, truly disgraceful coverage enough to raise anyone’s ire. But I prefer the positive side, Putin’s analysis as both able and persuasive. Yet brief notice of the papers’ coverage is in order, not to throw brickbats at prestigious sources, but to expose the alarming failure of journalistic integrity where US hegemonic purpose is involved. Neil MacFarquhar’s Times article, “Putin Accuses U.S. of Backing ‘Neo-Fascists’ and ‘Islamic Radicals,’” (Oct. 25), has a blistering, emotion-laden opening sentence: “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Friday unleashed perhaps his strongest diatribe against the United States yet, using an international meeting of Russia experts to sell Moscow’s view that American meddling has sparked most of the world’s recent crises, including those in Ukraine and the Middle East.” We’ll see: “diatribe”? “sell Moscow’s view”? MacFarquhar got this right: “The goal of the United States, he said, was to try to create a unipolar world in which American interests went unchallenged.” Who in Washington would disagree, except for one thing—the US had already created a unipolar world, a position of dominance it is now losing, both points of which Putin fully elaborates.
Proudly, in this very short article, the reporter devotes space, not to text, but to the burgeoning conflict: “Since Russia granted asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the American intelligence contractor, and the crisis in Ukraine, President Obama has increased pressure on the Kremlin, lumping Russia together with Ebola and terrorism as key threats to world stability. Washington has pushed its Western allies for a series of economic sanctions against Russia, resulting in cuts to financing from Western banks and halted oil exploration projects.” MacFarquhar then recited the propagandistic litany: “Russia is often accused of provoking the crisis in Ukraine by annexing Crimea, and prolonging the agony in Syria by helping to crush a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s last major Arab ally.” Then he planted the (unattributed) charge: “Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Putin seeks to restore the lost power and influence of the Soviet Union, or even the Russian Empire, in a bid to prolong his own rule.” (Tell me, Vladimir, when did you stop beating your wife?)
The Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Michael Birnbaum’s article, “Russia’s Putin blames U.S. for destabilizing world order,” (Oct. 25), succeeds little better—if at all. Their opening sentence: “Making clear that the Kremlin has no intention of backing down from the worst Russia-Western crisis since the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States on Friday of trying to ‘reshape the whole world’ for its benefit, in a fiery speech that was one of the most anti-American of his 15 years as Russia’s paramount leader.” Fiery? We’ll see; Harvard doctorates have been awarded for less scholarly treatises than this. The same litany of wrongdoing, passing lightly over the coup: “In nationally broadcast remarks that lasted nearly three hours [presumably a sign of demagoguery and reawakening the image of Fidel in the same light], Putin gave no hint of concessions to Western consternation over Russia’s role in Ukraine, where Putin first pressured former president Viktor Yanukovych over his plans to sign a European friendly trade deal, annexed the Crimean Peninsula after pro-European protesters forced Yanukovyche’s ouster and then helped fuel a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.” All points Putin responds to himself. Then the cherry atop the frothing: “Although there was little new substance in the angry address, it was a bitter distillation of Putin’s anti-American rhetoric at an annual forum originally intended to put a Western-friendly spin on Russia’s image.”
These national papers are thought to be dependable sources of the news. Did the reporters even study the text of the address? If Putin is seen as belligerent, that lies in the eye of the beholder. Better than Foreign Affairs 101, we have here a graduate seminar in International Relations directed by one who has blended realpolitik with a surprising undercurrent of moral values, both of which take account of historical development and reveal a skeptical view of ideology.
The seminal phrase of the address, which occurs near the end, is “a new version of interdependence,” itself sending chills down my spine because it expresses the vision of a non-hegemonic world, balance, harmony, regional clusters, eschewal of autarky, the triumph of dialogue over force. If Washington has had anything better to offer since World War II, I have yet to hear it. We have then a major departure from Soviet history and ideology, in which Putin stands Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country”-doctrine on its head, even to the extent (corresponding to recent structural changes in Russia) of qualifying socialism through active cooperation with the international business community, as if to assert a mixed economic order on a global scale. This is a basic, but not the only, aspect of “a new version of interdependence,” the wider implication of his address being, If the world is to avoid impending conflagration, cooler heads must prevail. Also, by his calculation, the West, the US, the EU, these are no longer central organizing principles of world development (Russia’s increasing involvement with the BRICS countries, to which he traveled to Brazil this past July to the Summit Meeting in Fortaleza to deliver an important speech, and will host the next annual meeting, having fueled this conviction).
Let’s see, pace The Times and The Post, what Putin really said, the American media by and large ignoring the address altogether. No Iron Curtain descended on Sochi; following his greetings to the final plenary meeting, he said: “It was mentioned already that the club has new co-organisers this year. They include Russian non-governmental organizations, expert groups and leading universities. The idea was also raised of broadening the discussions to include not just issues related to Russia itself but also global politics and the economy.” Putin continued: “I hope that these changes in organisation and content will bolster the club’s influence as a leading discussion and expert forum. At the same time, I hope the ‘Valdai spirit’ will remain—this free and open atmosphere and chance to express all manner of very different and frank opinions.” Remember the reporters’ preceding caricature—wouldst Obama had the intelligence and wit to say the following, rather than all obfuscation and scripted platitude: “Let me say in this respect that I will also not let you down and will speak directly and frankly. Some of what I say might seem a bit too harsh, but if we do not speak directly and honestly about what we really think, then there is no point in even meeting in this way.” He has it right: “It would be better in that case just to keep to diplomatic get-togethers, where no one says anything of real sense and, recalling the words of one famous diplomat, you realize that diplomats have tongues SO AS NOT TO SPEAK THE TRUTH.” (My caps.)
This is hardly vented spleen: “We get together for other reasons. We get together so as to talk frankly with each other. We need to be direct and blunt today [here one senses Putin is speaking to the world, not to this meeting alone, underscoring the seriousness of the situation] not so as to trade barbs, but so as to attempt to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in the world, try to understand why the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable, and why THE RISKS ARE INCREASING EVERYWHERE AROUND US.” (My caps.) He is sounding the tocsin of a normless world, perhaps political-ideological nihilism (or as I recently wrote in these pages, the prevalence in the West, under American leadership, of Thanatos) when he states, “Today’s discussion took place under the theme: New Rules or a Game without Rules. I think that this formula accurately describes the historic turning point we have reached today and the choice we all face.” This is not resurgent Cold-War simplification, but a seriousness of concern all but absent from our think tanks, pundits, official Washington itself: “There is nothing new of course in the idea that the world is changing very fast. I know this is something you have spoken about at the discussions today. It is certainly hard not to notice the dramatic transformation in global politics and the economy, public life, and in industry, information and social technologies.” Yes, he is sniping at the US, the last-mentioned a veiled reference (which he later makes explicit) to massive surveillance now taking place in America. But, a diatribe?
He asks pardon for “repeating what some of the discussion’s participants have already said,” which is unavoidable in light of the “detailed discussions,” yet, he goes on, “I will set out my point of view. It will coincide with other participants’ views on some points and differ on others.” What gives dignity to the address from the outset is the recognition that the world is staring into the abyss. Here is Putin with context: “As we analyse today’s situation, let us not forget history’s lessons. First of all, changes in the world order—and what we are seeing today are events on this scale—have usually been accompanied by if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts. Second, global politics is above all about economic leadership, issues of war and peace, and the humanitarian dimension, including human rights.”
In this vein, he points to fast-becoming societal breakdown global in its proportions (hardly a theme to enlist chauvinistic cheers back home, and rather a sobering note): “The world is full of contradictions today. We need to be frank in asking each other if we have a reliable safety net in place. Sadly, there is no guarantee and no certainty that the current system of global and regional security is able to protect us from upheavals. This system has become seriously weakened, fragmented and deformed. The international and regional political, economic, and cultural cooperation organisations are also going through difficult times.” What saves him from a Cassandra-like role in world politics, still less that of the ubiquitous despoiler and aggressor, is the frankness of the diagnosis and willingness to do something about it. The status quo is plainly unacceptable; societal-wide reconstruction is just as plainly necessary.
Putin returns to post-World War II arrangements as a base-point, reasonably workable mechanism for ensuring world order because, beyond “the balance of power and the rights of the victor countries,” there was sufficient mutual respect so that leaders “did not try to put the squeeze on others [here he may be smarting under the current sanctions regime], but attempted to reach agreements.” Too idyllic by far, which he seems to recognize: “The main thing is that this system needs to develop, and despite its various shortcomings, needs to at least be capable of keeping the world’s current problems within certain limits and regulating the intensity of the natural competition between countries.” Developing the system further, is the point of the address—not this or that political economy, but the world system, the institutionalization of harmonious relations between nations.
When Putin does criticize the US, it is not aimless hysterics. Patiently he dissects the element of breakdown growing out of, and I think inherent in, the Cold War, a setting that could not possibly last. Thus, he completes the thought about a system needing to develop: “It is my conviction that we could not take this mechanism of checks and balances that we built over the last decades, sometimes with such effort and difficulty, and simply tear it apart without building anything in its place. Otherwise we would be left with no instruments other than brute force.” In logic and practice, there has to be a next step: “What we needed to do was to carry out a rational reconstruction and adapt it [to] the new realities in the system of international relations.” Note where his thoughts on reconstruction lie, on the international system, which he believes is decisive, and for him, accomplishable when intervention in a country’s internal structure and system of governance is prevented. (Perhaps democratization thereby is allowed to flounder, but that is a matter for nations to determine for themselves, while intervention, as on the grounds of liberal humanitarianism, is especially productive of conflict and war—AND disguises the power position and hegemonic intent of the invading force. China, along with Russia, is firm on this proposition, although in the wider picture seen here, Li might not be prepared to follow Putin beyond an early point.)
Having come this far in his discussion, Putin now turns to the US and the Cold War: “But the United States, having declared itself the winner of the Cold War, saw no need for this [rational reconstruction]. Instead of establishing a new balance of power, essential for maintaining order and stability, they took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance.” (Lest balance-of-power politics sounds like Metternich-Kissinger-Stalin, the whole thrust of Putin’s address is to redefine it—the new version of interdependence, shorn of war-producing ideology and conditions.) This prompted further reflection on the Cold War, focused on the advantage sought by the US: “The Cold War ended. But it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules or standards. This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world out of their own needs and interests. [The words are carefully chosen; he has not exempted the Soviet Union, as one of the victors, from pursuing its own self-interest, which of course it did.] If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate destruction.”
Putin, however, apparently draws back. He later has harsh words for Khrushchev, but the thrust of his analysis is that Russia simply was not in a league with America in prosecuting global ambitions, the dynamics of the interplay between them, both for responsibility in heightening the Cold War and spinning out from there to reshaping the international system, seems from this corner, nurtured on works beginning with D.F. Fleming, then to William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, and a host of others, to bear him out. I find Putin’s account of the post-Cold War years compelling, but the very fact that he has felt the need to move ahead, taking Russia into a new realm, not THAT of Empire and the Restoration of Catherine the Great, speaks volumes about his own criticism of Soviet history and conduct. Else why the emphasis on interdependence?! His one bit of levity: “Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.” He is referring, unmistakably, to the US.
Now the gloves come off, but the cap and gown remain. Criticism need not be a sign of irrationality, only so when ruling groups declare it so, as with the reception to Putin’s speech quoted above, indeed, and when whom- and whatever stand in the way of American hegemony. Putin turns, then, to the lead-up to his concerted critique of America’s exercise of unilateralism in the international system (somewhat of a misnomer itself when centered on the dominance of one country). He states: “We have entered a period of differing interpretations and deliberate silences in world politics [that, a touch of the poet, in a supposed political harangue]. International law has been forced to retreat over and over by the onslaught of LEGAL NIHILISM. Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms. At the same time, total control of the global mass media has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white.” (My caps.) This is penetrating stuff, not name-calling as charged in the headlines, but a significant dimension of alienation at the heart of the rule of law and questioning its existence and efficacy.
Finally, he cuts to the chase, the ideological generalization from particular to universal, from American nation to rightful/exclusive world leadership, a projection of fetishistic Exceptionalism (my idea, not his) founded on domination, its necessary means of achievement: “In a situation where you had domination by one country and its allies, or its satellites rather, the search for global solutions often turned into an attempt to impose their own universal recipes. This group’s ambition grew so big that they started presenting the policies they put together in their corridors of power as the view of the entire international community. But this is not the case.” Precisely the argument for the decentralization of world power, what I have been terming a multipolar framework, and, though Russia is strong enough to stand on its own feet, vis-à-vis America, its inclusion in BRICS bears out the intent of global restructuring and end to US dominance as integral to Putin’s thinking. This would not mean resumption of Cold War hostilities, already present in any case, but the frank acknowledgment that America must be compelled to find its place in the Family of Nations. US criticism of Putin reduces to, an unwillingness to give up its place of world domination, which, like it or not, it has already lost, the BRICS one harbinger of the future, China and Russia, another, as Washington ups the ante through greater militarism, sanctions, interventions, assassinations—al the traffic will bear, including the detection of New Enemies to ensure a steady diet of the foregoing.
With this, we see a glimpse of the reasoning behind upholding national sovereignty; for otherwise, nations become swallowed in the maw of Behemoth, sovereignty, then, a defense against absorption into the power orbit of America: “The very notion of ‘national sovereignty’ became a relative value for most countries. In essence, what was being proposed was the formula: the greater the loyalty towards the world’s sole power centre, the greater this or that ruling regime’s legitimacy.” Russia was not that “world’s sole power centre,” nor does Putin harbor such aspirations. He has already said a mouthful, but—and the transcript bears this out—he was prepared for utter openness in the discussion of his views: “We will have a free discussion afterwards and I will be happy to answer your questions and would also like to use my right to ask you questions. Let someone try to disprove the arguments that I just set out during the upcoming discussion.” Just imagine Obama saying that.
Putin is not through; it only gets better. When he sketches the penalties of nonconformance to the power system as it presently exists, one sees a further sharpening of focus on America: “The measures taken against those who refuse to submit are well-known and have been tried and tested many times. They include use of force, economic and propaganda pressure, meddling in domestic affairs, and appeals to a kind of ‘supra-legal’ legitimacy when they need to justify illegal intervention in this or that conflict or toppling inconvenient regimes.” The whole panorama of imperialism rolls by, from a supra-legal standard of Exceptionalism to concrete interventions running a wide gamut of nations (to which he comes to presently), but the referent is clear: “It is not for nothing that ‘big brother’ is spending billions of dollars on keeping the whole world, including its own closest allies, under surveillance.” The last refers presumably to the eavesdropping on Merkel and others.
Putin is asking, how long can this assault on the international system continue, here for the moment playing devil’s advocate for the US: “Let’s ask ourselves, how comfortable are we with this, how safe are we, how happy living in this world, and how fair and rational has it become? Maybe, we have no real reasons to worry, argue and ask awkward questions? Maybe the United States’ exceptional position and the way they are carrying out their leadership really is a blessing for us all, and their meddling in events all around the world is bringing peace, prosperity, progress, growth and democracy, and we should maybe just relax and enjoy it all?” His answer: “Let me say that this is not the case, ABSOLUTELY NOT THE CASE.” (My caps.) Ironically, one who is customarily linked to totalitarianism refers to “big brother” and complains about the endangerment to civil liberties.
If the foregoing be an attack, what follows is discerning political science, popularized as “blowback,” but in fact a recognition of the reverse-dynamics of unilateralism (aka, absolute power): “A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.” That is the context from which the named-groups jump out of one of the aforementioned headlines—not irresponsible finger-pointing, but part of a complex analysis. He continues: “Why do they support such people? They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals but then burn their fingers and run.” Yes, blowback, but, politically-ideologically, almost a compulsive-obsessive disorder: “I never cease to be amazed by the way that our partners just keeping stepping on the same rake, as we say here in Russia, that is to say, make the same mistake over and over.”
The insight is important. Not just, as I think Chalmers Johnson may have seen it, poor judgment, opportunism, wrongful policies on an ad hoc basis, and instead, inhering in the history, culture, politics, economics of a nation, and structurally coalesced around a value system of superiority and integrated through expansion and militarism. Not blowback in the singular and particular, but an integral policy disposition toward imperialism and war—and with that, he gets down to cases: “They once sponsored Islamic extremist movements to fight the Soviet Union. Those groups got their battle experience in Afghanistan and later gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The West if not supported, at least closed its eyes, and, I would say, gave information, political and financial support to internationalist terrorists’ invasion of Russia (we have not forgotten this) and the Central Asian region’s countries.” Putin’s remark in parentheses alerts us to what is seldom mentioned: not only his and Russia’s steadfast resistance to terrorism, but the extent to which, using the Taliban and mujahedeen, this was avowedly conceived in the light of anticommunism, America’s thumb on which to suck to ward off all threats real and imagined. For some time I have tried to see counterterrorism as a surrogate for anticommunism; here Putin helps me to make the connection.
Demonization is in the air—yet, in fairness, how account, after reference to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, for the sentences to follow? “Only after horrific terrorist attacks were committed on US soil itself,” he states, “did the United States wake up to the common threat of terrorism. Let me remind you that we were the first country to support the American people back then, the first to react as friends and partners to the terrible tragedy of September 11.” Two points: first, the West (particularly America) helped to create the terrorist groups it now seeks mightily to suppress; and second, there is Obama’s indictment of Russia/Putin as, along with Ebola, a present threat to the US.
Putin is more than miffed. There before the US on the terrorism issue, he sees America using it to increase international tensions (directed to Russia) while pursuing further interventions (in its name), all to what end? Given overtures to cooperate, itself a mechanism for easing tensions, he finds only a blank wall: “During my conversations with American and European leaders, I always spoke of the need to fight terrorism together, as a CHALLENGE ON A GLOBAL SCALE. We cannot resign ourselves to and accept this threat, cannot cut it into separate pieces using double standards. Our partners expressed agreement, but a little time passed and we ended up back where we started.” [My caps.] To me, it is inescapable what is happening. America does not want to solve the problem of terrorism. Its utility lies in keeping the nation on total alert, military alert, which also sustains the policies and spirit of confrontation with Russia, and, more recently, China. The Cold War is alive and well—thank you, ISIS.
Putin practically says as much. After noting the passage of time, he states: “First there was the military operation in Iraq, then in Libya, which got pushed to the brink of falling apart. Why was Libya pushed into this situation? [Good question] Today it is a country in danger of breaking apart and has become a training ground for terrorists.” Putin is not infallible, obviously. He next praises Sisi for keeping order in Egypt and criticizes the direct arming of Syrian rebels against Assad (a more complicated case; Assad is no Sisi, and the rebels, hardly a democratic social force, whilst Morsi and the Brotherhood gave more promise in Egypt). Nevertheless, Putin values order, where the choice is that or terrorism. It wasn’t only that the US and its allies “started directly financing and arming rebels and allowing them to fill their ranks with mercenaries from various countries,” but this opened the larger can of worms, the financing of terrorism in general, extending its reach, power, and sophistication: “Let me ask where do these rebels get their money, arms and military specialists? Where does all this come from? How did the notorious ISIL manage to become such a powerful group, essentially a real armed force?” Good questions, yet—possibly for that reason—he remains out in the cold.
There is so much more of value to analyze in the address, but for reasons of space limitations and trying the reader’s patience I shall confine myself to several broader points, taking them seriatim so as to keep its structure and flavor intact. The departure point is Putin’s stunning critique of a single-power (i.e., US) framework of global dominance, stunning in that it raises fundamental issues of political theory relating to the international system, the nature of sovereignty, and indirectly, moral obligation. Thus he turns next to the self-defeating consequences of war, intervention, conquest, as though the nation embarked on a Sisyphean struggle (my point): “We sometimes get the impression that our colleagues and friends are constantly fighting the consequences of their own policies, throw all their effort into addressing the risks they themselves have created, and pay an ever-greater price.” It’s no cinch to remain top-dog, though the US has not realized this. The Lord Acton aphorism about absolute power corrupting absolutely comes to mind, or as Putin states the proposition: “[T]his period of unipolar domination has convincingly demonstrated that having only one power centre does not make global processes more manageable. On the contrary, this kind of unstable construction has shown its inability to fight the real threats such as regional conflicts, terrorism, drug trafficking, religious fanaticism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism.” Perhaps a more explicit reference to America (which I would score it a failing grade on the preceding list): “A the same time, it [the unipolar world] has opened the road wide for inflated national pride, manipulating public opinion and letting the strong bully and suppress the weak.”
He is not through, the epigrammatic sentence to follow deserving pride of place on the proscenium of the US Capitol as a daily reminder of the social misery this nation has created at home and abroad: “Essentially, the unipolar world is simply a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries.” It is also perhaps too expensive to maintain, in its own right and to support a healthy domestic society: “The unipolar world turned out too uncomfortable, heavy and unmanageable a burden even for the self-proclaimed leader.” Then the brilliant shocker. Putin is saying the US is seeking the structural-ideological reproduction of the previous historical period, in other words, a return to the Cold War in its pristine clarity, a bipolar world, America and Russia, where America can thrive and still do as it pleases, without the burden of unipolar leadership weighing it down. Putin wants to move forward, the US, to move backward, to the social and psychological security of always having an Enemy through which to then know itself.
Let’s take this in steps, beginning from “our self-proclaimed leader.” Putin (I see him cap-and-gown, not his usual blue business suit) observes: “This is why we see attempts at this new historic stage to recreate a semblance of a QUASI-BIPOLAR WORLD as a convenient model for perpetuating American leadership.” (My caps.) Precisely because of this new historic stage, America proceeds backward, not forward, unable to accept social change, unwilling to experience democratization, whether of the world structure or its own. The hunker-down mentality. Putin regrettably doesn’t carry through from his own analysis (but who in America would listen anyway?), but the implications are fairly straightforward, as now, when he comes to America’s need always for an Enemy. In that convenient model it offers the world, “[i]t does not matter who takes the place at the centre of evil in American propaganda, the USSR’s old place as the main adversary. It could be Iran, as a country seeking to acquire nuclear technology, China, as the world’s biggest economy, or Russia, as a nuclear superpower.” It doesn’t matter; what matters is the Enemy provides the opportunity and pretext for enlarging the nation’s leadership role in the world, along with increasing its military/nuclear capacity.
Putin continues—create fragmentation for its own sake, the better to maintain power AND encourage an aimlessness and loss of purpose or meaning in international affairs (i.e., for the other guy): “Today, we are seeing new efforts to fragment the world, draw new dividing lines, put together coalitions not built for something but directed against someone, anyone, create the image of an enemy as was the case during the Cold War years, and obtain the right to leadership, or diktat if you wish.” Oh, that right to leadership, which capitalizes on the projection of Evil in the world, and the demand, given the savior warding off danger, of outright submission, a game of psychodynamics America knows well (although others on the Continent wrote the book): “The situation was presented this way during the Cold War. We all understand this and know this. The United States always told its allies: ‘We have a common enemy, a terrible foe, the centre of evil, and we are defending you, our allies, from this foe, and so we have the right to order you around, force you to sacrifice your political and economic interests and pay your share of the costs for this collective defence, but we will be the ones in charge of it all of course.” Amen. Hallelujah. All we need now is the ghost of Frederick Taylor to enlist in the cause—and Putin, with a telling phrase, seems to recognize that, too: “In short, we see today attempts in a new and changing world to reproduce the familiar models of GLOBAL MANAGEMENT, and all this so as to guarantee their [the US’] exceptional position and reap political and economic dividends.” (My caps.) He concludes the thought on a sober yet sensible note: “But these attempts are increasingly divorced from reality and are in contradiction with the world’s diversity. Steps of this kind inevitably create confrontation and countermeasures and have the opposite effect to the hoped-for goals.”
The address contains so much more, and I regret the need to pull away. But there is one thing to add, the context for the phrase, “a new version of interdependence.” The ground has not been adequately prepared from the subsequent content of the address, for a seamless entry to it, but enough of Putin’s thinking would, I believe, make it self-explanatory. He states: “In light of the fundamental changes in the international environment, the increase in uncontrollability and various threats, we need a new global consensus of responsible forces. It’s not about some local deals or a division of spheres of influence in the spirit of classic diplomacy, or somebody’s complete global domination. I think that we need a new version of interdependence. We should not be afraid of it. On the contrary, this is a good instrument for harmonizing positions.” Will there be any takers? Last we saw the US would not even sign the Convention on Torture.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.