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Feature Story February 27, 2008
New Cold War Kitsch: We Were So Young, So Naive, So Idiotic!
By Alexander Zaitchik and Mark Ames Browse author
Page 3 of 7

* * *

But perhaps these books are meant to be enjoyed as kitsch. After all, we live in a time where culture is both sped up and fixated on the past in endless retro-fads. So perhaps we're already ready to re-consume the New Cold War as retro-kitsch. And what better way to do that than to read the more New Cold War-y of the two New Cold War books: the one written by Anglican Russophobe Edward Lucas.

After thanking his editors for getting the book out so fast that they couldn't edit it, Lucas pulls out his costume box of epaulets and funny mustaches, invoking Hitler and Stalin. According to Lucas, there is a new darkness at noon. Similar to the last one—both very dark and quite noon-ish—but this time, the danger lies in the fact that, in Lucas' view, "the West" is so stupid it can only worry about one enemy at a time. Just as the Allied powers grew so obsessed with Germany and Japan in the 1930s that they lost focus on the threat posed by Russia, today a misguided obsession with radical Islam and the War On Terror keeps us from seeing the threat posed by Russia. Again.

Lucas' book drips with Osama-envy. That damn War On Terror has screwed up the journalistic ambitions of every foreign correspondent not based in the Middle East—including, of course, all the Russia specialists, who have to try so much harder to convince the folks back home to spare a little fear and loathing for the Russians, rather than spend their entire hysteria budget on the Muslims. Russia specialists have to beg like the California Almond Growers in that old ad: "A can of Slavophobia a week, that's all we ask!"

Lucas, a true Russiaphobe, has clearly been consuming several six-packs of Slav-hating per week all his life; so for him, the war on terror matters only as it affects the "Russian threat." He decries Guantanamo, the Iraq invasion, and Abu Ghraib—not for being gross violations of human rights and international law, but for providing the Kremlin with "potent propaganda weapons." When Moscow shows "contemptuous disregard for Western norms" it is time for a fiercely contested New Cold War; when Washington does the same, the problem is bad PR.

Lucas isn't an idiot. He's just a bit of a fruitcake (and folks, we say that knowing that if this newspaper calls you a "fruitcake," you are no mere slice of raisin bread). Being fairly bright and totally mad, Lucas realizes he might seem to be overdoing the Russian Threat a bit. Again and again, he shrieks that he is not being hysterical and historically obtuse and just plain wrong! Absolutely not! The book at times seems to be written by two men, a Doctor Strangelove howling for a NCW, and a Doctor Jekyll trying to give him a sedative.

On one page, Lucas berates Russia apologists for failing to see the massive threat over the eastern horizon. On the next, he retreats from the implications of his own rhetoric. After suggesting that the Russian threat is more sinister than that posed by Al Qaeda, he takes care to stress that Russia is "not a military menace to the West." Rather, the problem is one of "bombast, bullying, and bribery." (Ah, the three "B"s! Apparently both of our featured authors are fans of alliteration.) Russia, he explains, "has dropped three Soviet attributes from its foreign policy: a messianic ideology, raw military power, and the imperative of territorial expansion." In its place it has embraced trade and investment, exactly as the West has always argued it should. Instead of nuclear weapons and massive heavy tank divisions, the NCW is "fought with cash, natural resources, diplomacy and propaganda… The new cold war is in part a struggle for market share."

If most people find the thought of a suitcase nuke in lower Manhattan more frightening than a growing Gazprom portfolio of downstream German energy assets, well, they obviously haven't spent enough time hanging out in the Polish foreign ministry cafeteria listening to Western-educated bureaucrats griping about Russia's imperial intentions, the way Lucas has.

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