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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 4 of 7
 

The multiple personality disorder on display in Lucas's The New Cold War is fascinating to watch. You imagine a harried Lucas talking to his finger throughout the frenzied process of getting the book out before Putin steps aside. "Tony says that there's a New Cold War. Isn't that right, Tony? 'Yes, Mr. Lucas. Raw Dloc! Raw Dloc!'"

Danny - Tony
Tony says: "Raw Dloc! Raw Dloc!"

One minute, Lucas calmly suggests there will be no return to the Cold War we had in the past. And the next, Lucas pops up across the room, crying, "The most catastrophic mistake the outside world has made since 1991 is to assume that Russia is steadily becoming a 'normal' country." Munich '38! Yalta '45! Raw Dloc! Raw Dloc!

So when were the seedlings for this catastrophic mistake planted? Here Lucas must act gingerly, without laying too much blame on Yeltsin's grave. The Economist correspondent is a big fan of the first post-communist President. According to Lucas' narrative, Putin betrayed the proud legacy of the freedom fighter Boris Yeltsin, whose "three immovable principles were free speech, friendship with the West, and [keeping] the Communists out of power." As for all those murdered journalists during the 1990s and that whole dissolving and shelling an elected parliament thing, not to mention the first war in Chechnya or the stolen 1996 elections—well, those were different times. The Lollapalooza years. People talked differently back then, so we can't judge them. Better not to dwell too much on the distant past. Better to focus on Russia's trajectory starting, oh gosh, I dunno…say, around 1999? Is that too random? Too much dwelling on the 90s confuses the simplistic narrative of a good pro-Westerner and an evil New Stalin.

Because Putin turned his back on the Yeltsin legacy of freedom and peoples' friendship with the West, Lucas believes Russia "now stands little chance of avoiding long-term decline." Here's that same "Russia is weak and thus terrifying" paradox that so many New Cold Warriors peddled during that bygone era. It's a mystery to us how any reader can be dumb enough to fall for it.

Aside from its logical problems, its first claim—that Russia is "weak"—is simply, clearly false. Regardless of what you think of the state of freedom and democracy in Russia today (and Lucas is right about this part of his story; it has gotten worse, even though it all started under Yeltsin), Russia is not the same feeble basket-case it was under his hero Yeltsin. It's posted some of the world's best and most consistent growth rates every year since 2000. Many foreign companies are posting their best—or, in the case of Ford, their only—profits in Russia's booming economy. Moscow holds the second largest foreign currency reserves in the world. In Lucas' own words, the country's finances are "dizzyingly good." Even Russia's slow-motion demographic disaster shows signs of turning around, which even the biggest optimists didn't expect. The idea that Russia is on the verge of long-term decline isn't just wishful thinking; it's simply a lie told by NCW peddlers because if their readers ever found out that Russia was getting stronger under Putin, then they might start to think that perhaps, just maybe, Putin wasn't all so bad for Russia. And if Putin hasn't been so awful for Russia, then the entire moral argument collapses, and the New Cold War comes down to a simple battle for power between two petrodollar gangs, one based in Houston and the other in Moscow.


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