Monday, October 15, 2007

On "de-Bushification" and a politically healthier America

I don't know how many people out there read the Moscow Times, but it is a generally fine newspaper with some great columnists. Many of them are native Russians, and while they have all taken refuge in the United States in recent years, they continue to write for the MT and offer their unique viewpoints on American and Russian history, culture and politics. I have taken the following column in its entirety, because MT stories are only available for about 24 hours after publication--they then disappear into the for-pay archives. Alexei Bayer offers "An Important Lesson for Clinton on Russian History," in the hopes that the United States can avoid some of the post-Afghanistan, post-Communist fallout that Russia has endured.

"The war in Afghanistan was not the main reason the Soviet Union collapsed. Nevertheless, it bankrupted the Soviet state and pointed out the moral blight, skewed priorities and irrelevance of the Communist gerontocracy.

The United States is a vibrant society with a diversified and resilient economy. But it currently stands on the brink of considerable social and economic upheaval, and the Iraq war reveals the fault lines within the world's only superpower. It is a nation living beyond its means by exploiting the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency. The war is costing some $3 billion per week -- all of it borrowed from more productive nations.

The United States is the leader of the free world, which the rest of the world refuses to follow. Even the pathetic "coalition of the willing," a bunch of mostly third-tier nations Washington assembled to back it in Iraq, has crumbled.
Iraq occupies a far more important place in the political debate in the United States than Afghanistan ever did in the Soviet Union. It is divisive, and frustrations on both sides have been exacerbated by the fact that no victory, however defined, can be achieved. Nor can U.S. forces leave without plunging a strategic, oil-rich region into chaos.

U.S. overconsumption and unilateralism predated President George W. Bush. But it was Bush who turned federal fiscal surpluses into deficits -- literally, with a stroke of a pen -- by granting his disastrous tax cuts. He plunged the United States into the irrelevant global war on terror, started the unnecessary and wasteful war in Iraq and created the moral climate in which Americans stand accused of torture, war crimes and atrocities.

Bush has been called the worst president in U.S. history. But now he has devised a clever plan to rescue his legacy. His troop surge in Iraq is designed to create a sense of stability and even progress. His economic policy, aided and abetted by the U.S. Federal Reserve, has been to stretch the liquidity bubble for another year or so. He could then credibly claim that he left office with Iraq on the mend and the economy booming and that his successors dropped the ball.

The next occupant of the White House will have to fight back in self-defense. He -- or most probably she (meaning Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is currently the most credible candidate) -- should study recent Russian history. Gorbachev withdrew troops from Afghanistan, but he never put those responsible for the war on trial. Boris Yeltsin ended communism and split the Soviet empire, but he avoided pushing for de-Stalinization. Even a symbolic condemnation of communism by Russian courts would have allowed the country to turn over a new page and rejoin the community of nations in much the same way West Germany did after World War II.

As a result, in post-Soviet Russia, Brezhnev's reputation is being revived, Stalin is widely venerated and former KGB officers rule the Kremlin. Gorbachev and Yeltsin, meanwhile, are reviled for "destroying a great country."

If Clinton doesn't want to share their fate -- which in the U.S. context would mean a failed one-term presidency -- she would need to start de-Bushification. Her first act in office should be to put Bush and his entourage on trial.

When I recently suggested this to an audience of New York lawyers, the room exploded with laughter. It would be unconstitutional, they said, and also so un-American, to be stuck in the past.

On the contrary, putting blame where it belongs would be a step toward the future. It would, first of all, extract the next president's reputation from the rubble of failed policies. More important, a guilty verdict passed on the Bush administration by an impartial and independent U.S. court might put an end to unilateralism and restore the United States' rightful place in the community of nations. Both would benefit."

I have no idea whether a systematic campaign of "de-Bushification" would ever fly here. But everyone who hopes that the US will learn from the Bush era and the Iraq disaster has to consider how he/she will make the country face the reality of what it helped to enable, so as to forge a better path into the future for the United States in its relations with the rest of the world. Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster, and people should be forced to acknowledge where the nation went wrong and why, no mincing words.


Blogger TomCat said...

Bucky, what amazes me about this post is that the Russian journalist makes the same points I have been making, without his all too relevant comparisons between the current day US and the fall of the USSR.

3:39 PM  
Blogger buckarooskidoo said...

Yes, this fellow is very much worth reading. Great minds absolutely think alike. Also check out Boris Kagarlitsky, whose column you can find under the rubric, "Always a dissident" on the MT home page...

12:09 AM  
Blogger TomCat said...

Will do. Thanks!

4:05 PM  

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