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  • Speech to The National Press Club, Washington, D.C., 7 December 2017

     

    BOOK PRESENTATION:  DOES THE UNITED STATES HAVE A FUTURE?

     by Gilbert Doctorow. Ph.D.

     

    I am going to deliver a talk that will come in at 30 minutes in which I address in greater detail than you will find in the book the connection between the title question and the content of the book. To be more specific, I will explain why a book about the United States failing on the world stage deals so largely with what is happening in Russia.

     This is not an overview of the book. It is essentially a new chapter of the book. For those of you who want a quick listing of the merits and highlights of the book, I refer you to the thorough review by Alexander Mercouris that appeared on November 19th on the portal of The Duran. This was republished the next day on Johnson’s Russia List, the digest of writings about Russia that is hosted by George Washington University and is received daily by all US university centers and think tanks interested in Russian matters.

    When I began preparation of this book six months ago, I never imagined the title and overriding concept would be so timely as it is today.   Each new issue of The New York Times or The Washington Post provides additional material for the case. Each new revelation about “groping” or other sexual misconduct by US Congressmen reveals the Nation’s Capital as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. But that is today. The evidence has been piling up for at least as far back as the essays in this new book were being written.

    In particular, the questioning of America’s future has become a mainstream issue ever since the election of Donald Trump. 

    The movement to obstruct and take down Trump began immediately. Open and public attacks not just on his policies but on his intellectual faculties and mental balance have appeared in our mainstream press every day.  A beleaguered President is lashing out in all directions. We see chaos in policy formation. Executive staff contradicts one another and contradicts the President on a nearly daily basis. The President himself is flip-flopping on policy. He is issuing alarming tweets. 

    Some well considered observers have drawn dire conclusions from all of this. I think of David Rothkopf writing in Foreign Policy magazine on 10 May 2017. The title of his article: “Is America a Failing State?”

    The author was for five years chief editor of what is a respected International Relations  journal.  He believes that the United States is well on its way to becoming a banana republic. And for this he blames Trump and his cronies in high federal offices.  They are a threat to national security, a disgrace on the world stage. The cronies are feathering their nests at the expense of the broad public, while the Commander in Chief shows open admiration for thugs and authoritarians around the   world and disparages his federal employees, mocks the Constitution.

    In continuation of the same idea, an Op Ed essay by E.J. Dionne, Jr. in the Washington Post on November 30 was given the title “Our political foundation is rotting away.”  Dionne concludes: “The longer this president is in power, the weaker our country will become.”

    However, the gloom over the future of the US also appears in other, still                    more moderate and respected establishment publications. I take as my marker Foreign Affairs magazine, which has a subscription in the USA and abroad of several hundred thousand and may be called the bedrock of the Establishment. The essays there are issued in a neutral, scholarly tone, rather than deeply partisan                 attacks such as you find in the daily newspapers. 

     

    Tellingly, the September-October 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs ran on its front cover the headline:  See America. Land of Decay and Dysfunction.”

    More recently, in mid-August 2017, an FA article entitled “Kleptocracy in America”  takes us entirely away from the personality peculiarities of the 45th President into the broader and more important realm of the systemic flaws of governance, namely the extraordinary political power wielded by the very wealthy due to the rules on election financing and the self-serving policies that they succeed in enacting while the general public has stagnated economically for decades now, setting the stage for the voter revolt that brought Trump to power.     

     

    Then as one final straw in the wind, I would mention the remarkable Op Ed piece in The Washington Post on September 1, 2017 written by Senator John McCain. He described American politics at the federal level as simply not working due to overheated partisanship that compromises the national interest (a problem to which he has himself contributed handsomely) and due to a never ending electoral cycle.

     

    Indeed, a country which appears to be unable to govern itself is hardly the exemplar and all-powerful state suitable to govern the rest of the world.

     

    However persuasive these points of analysis may be, they overlook what I believe is the main determinant of the onset of America’s decline as a world power that we are presently witnessing and of its possible withdrawal into true isolationism:  the decision going back to 2007 to break the back of Russia.

    Why Russia?  Because it has been the only major power to publicly reject the US global hegemony both in word and in deed

     

    The US has applied all imaginable efforts to put Russia in its place, as Washington sees it – namely as just another regional power, a European state that is in decline, that nods approvingly to whatever policy line comes out of Washington.

     

    These endeavors have mobilized American Soft Power and Hard Power.

    Soft Power – attempts to foment a color revolution in Russia that removes Vladimir Putin from power by financing opposition figures, by imposing personal and economic sector sanctions in the hope of splitting the Kremlin elites from the broad population and from Putin, by denigrating the President of the Russian Federation in terms that no one would have dared to use during the original Cold War in addressing Leonid Brezhnev, for example. I think of Hillary and her repeated description of Putin as a “Hitler.”

    In parallel, there have been our attempts to contain Russia by our physical presence at its borders and off its shores through expansion of NATO going back to 1996 and more recently through positioning of NATO brigades in Poland and the Baltic States, and holding large scale military exercises in these advanced positions, within easy striking distance of St Petersburg and other Russian population centers.

    Then there has been the US drive to achieve a first strike capability, namely development of weaponry and systems intended to decapitate Russia or any other enemy, systems which are globally positioned and in space. 

    Less dramatic technically, but from the Russian perspective equally threatening has been the construction in Poland and Romania of US installations that are nominally designated as elements in a missile defense shield but are easily usable for the launch of intermediate range missiles, i.e. offensive weapons systems that can strike Russian targets in minutes. This, despite the oft repeated Russian objections and finally threats to respond effectively if asymmetrically.

    The end result of these several intertwined policies has been to create the very Frankenstein monster we have talked up.

    The few politicians and Pentagon generals who have identified Russia as the single greatest threat to American security are entirely correct. Today, as in the past during the original Cold War, Russia is the only country on earth capable of reducing the entire Continental United States to ashes within a day. 

    But it is also, as was not the case during the Cold War, the state most capable of deterring American military action against it by its advanced conventional warfare men and materiel, meaning precision bombs and cruise missiles launched from air and sea, with global reach. This conventional capability was developed from virtually zero in the past 15 years and implemented throughout the Russian armed forces over the past 5 years with very specific target metrics for modernization of the fighting units, not just parade units.

    This has been noted by US security analysis.  An article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine by Ivo Daalder, who was for several years the US ambassador to NATO, makes precisely the point I just described about the new military capabilities of Russia.  However, Daalder gives you the end result of Russia’s modernization program and does not give you the information essential to respond appropriately: namely how and why this threat came about. That is precisely what you find in my books:  the action, reaction that has brought us to the present.

    Moreover, an article like Daalder’s is not what the general public is reading.

    Although Russia’s threat to American well-being features daily on the front page of our newspapers of record, this military threat is not what we read about. Instead, we are told about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections with the aim of discrediting Hillary Clinton and so promoting the electoral chances of Donald Trump, about Russian attempts through social media advertising and otherwise to discredit the institutions of the American political system and to call into question the reliability of the voting procedures. 

    This is fake news that obscures the far more ominous problem of Russian military forces and the dangerous confrontations with Russia over the past year that were played down to the American public by the very same Pentagon sources.

    The closest that the media come to identifying a Russian military threat is talk of cyber warfare, itself only a small part of non-nuclear strategic and tactical means being deployed by Moscow.

     

    Let me be specific about how the US attempts to contain and control Russia over the past 25 years have backfired:

    Objective One:  cripple the Russian economy by reducing its single biggest source of export revenues:  gas and oil sales to Europe.  You can trace this economic warfare back, as I did in my 2012 book Stepping Out of Line, to the policies of the 2nd Clinton administration that are widely called the Pipeline Wars” or “New Great Game.” This entailed US promotion of new energy suppliers to Europe - Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and finally, most recently, the USA itself - and its promotion of new paths to the European market – whether pipelines that bypass Russia or LNG, as is the case today.

    The second dimension of this economic warfare has been sanctions, which the US first imposed in 2012, under the guise of punishing Russian violations of human rights –the Magnitsky Act - and which were vastly expanded in 2014 up to present to punish Russia for alleged violations of international law and of the post-Cold War world order by its annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Ukrainian civil war, in Donbass.

    Objective Two:   Isolate Russia and cast it as a pariah state, without friends or allies. Expel Russia from major international gatherings, like the G8.  Strip Russia of its veto in the United Nations Security Council. Impugn its integrity, as in the World Olympics movement. See the decision last week to strip two more Russian gold medalists of the awards received in Sochi 2014.   In these ways cripple Russia’s chances of interfering with American global leadership.

    A subset of the “isolate Russia” campaign is to cut off Russian access to military technology. Halt the two way flow of materiel and components.  We see this most recently in the decision by the organizers of the Farnborough Air Show to exclude Russian participation.

    What have we gotten for these efforts?

    First, the political effect of the economic warfare, especially of the sanctions, has been to rally the Russian population around the President and in defense of the nation, that is to say it has been precisely the opposite of what the authors of these measures in US think tanks and in the State Department had projected. All of this has driven the approval ratings of Putin from about 65% three years ago to over 80% for months on end this year.

    Secondly, these attacks have only strengthened the resilience and self-sufficiency of the Russian economy.  Indiscriminate importation of all possible consumer and investment goods has stopped. Import substitution is the slogan of the day, and it is heartily supported by the general population that has reversed its feelings about domestic products, which were formerly considered to be inferior, and encouraged a “buy Russian” mentality. With increased demand and less price competition from abroad, Russian producers have improved quality and variety of their offerings in striking ways.

    In response to sanctions and its own embargo on imported foodstuffs from those who imposed sanctions, Russian agriculture has boomed, attracting large domestic investment. The result is that this year Russia had its largest grain harvest in 100 years and replaced US and European suppliers on global markets. Russia this year also became the world’s largest exporter of sugar beet sugar, displacing France. Poultry and livestock are also well on the way to self-sufficiency. Even milk production, which was one of the least performing agricultural sectors seems to be turning the corner and attracting substantial investment with government encouragement.

    Thirdly, the Russians came up with other pipelines and other partners to ensure their dominant position as provider of imported gas to the EU.  Russia has maintained and even slightly expanded its share of the energy supplies to the EU.  But let us remember that Russia never was and is not today a monopoly supplier. It accounts for 40% of EU gas imports and 30% of gas consumption. 

    Russia continues to work on solutions that ensure that to the greatest extent possible those supplies pass directly from its shores to the EU consumers.    

    Despite all the objections and difficulties raised by the US, by Poland, by the Baltic States, Russia continues to pursue the Nord Stream II project and has replaced the frustrated South Stream project by the Turk Stream, which is in early implementation stage.

    Gas and oil production remain strong and Russia has been developing its markets in Asia. First and foremost is with China for pipeline supplied gas and oil.  Existing contracts call for supply to China of more than $300 billion in gas over 20 years via the Power of Siberia pipeline now nearing completion. New markets are being opened in Eastern and Southeastern Asia for LNG which is being supplied from new Russian fields in the Far North (Yamal) and Eastern Siberia.

     

    The government’s import substitution program in other economic sectors has been making some remarkable progress, achieving what was long beyond reach in Russia due to the key role and profitability of energy production in the economy and to an accommodating policy on imports within the context of WTO membership.  Government sponsored national heroes lead the way. We see this in the revived civilian aircraft production. Also in pharmaceuticals, to name just two sectors.

     

    1. Deterrence parity.

    The Russians have done exactly what Vladimir Putin said they would do:  react in asymmetrical ways, finding defensive solutions entirely designed and produced at home that are vastly less expensive to implement than the offensive systems developed by the United States, but having all necessary potency to neutralize the American initiative and to render useless all the US scheming at gaining a first strike capability that would decapitate the enemy and spell military victory at one stroke.  

     That objective today has been stymied on a Russian military budget that is 10 times less than the US spends, which consumes just 5% of Russian GNP.  For those who find the Russian military budget high, let us remember that in Soviet times the military consumed 25% of GNP. That was unbearable.  5% is wholly supportable by a motivated government supported by a patriotic minded population. Moreover, to put this 60 billion dollar annual spend in another context, let us remember that Russia spent 51 billion dollars on infrastructure projects to hold the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

    1. Geopolitics

    The most stunning dimension of Russia’s successful pushback to the US led Western world has been geopolitical, entirely neutralizing the efforts to isolate Russia.

    The historic geopolitical achievement of the Nixon-Kissinger period, namely making Washington closer to Beijing and Moscow than they are to one another, has been utterly undone.  Russia and China today are in a de facto strategic alliance that is changing the geopolitical landscape of the globe and promises to change the economic power balance as well as they pursue determinedly a policy of removing the dollar from its pedestal as the world’s leading reserve currency. The key measures have been to claw away at the Petrodollar, which going back to the 1970s is what built up the dollar to its unique standing. This position as prime reserve currency has been a major lever in US global hegemony.  Russian sales of oil to China are now in yuan, and this factor also explains how Russia overtook Saudi Arabia as the leading oil supplier to China. 

    The Chinese and Russians have put in place new global financial infrastructure to prevent the US from imposing on them what it did to Iran. These institutions are parallel and alternatives to the US controlled institutions dating from just after WWII, like the IMF and World Bank.

    Furthermore, Russia, like China, has been developing new sea and land lanes for global goods movements, including movement of hydrocarbons, that can replace and certainly reduce the importance of the US-protected sea lanes through the Malacca Straits and Suez Canal.  In the case of China, this is the well-known New Silk Road, or One Belt One Road.  In the case of Russia, it is the lesser-known but also game-changing Northern Sea route secured by the world’s largest ice breaker fleet,  and also the expansion of rail capabilities to and in the Far East.  The latter will include the building of a bridge from the Continent to Sakhalin Island, to be officially announced early in 2018, and the follow-on construction of a rail bridge to Japanese Hokkaido which will be the lynch-pin of the coming Russian-Japanese Peace Treaty.

     

    In speaking of the Russian – Chinese alliance, I fully acknowledge that this was not something arrived at naturally. The two countries have one of the longest common borders in the world, with a history of disputes going back more than a century. 

    There is the obvious point that the Russian side of the border is almost empty, while the Chinese side is brimming over with population.  That these sides have come together is the result of both simultaneously coming under threat and containment measures led by the United States and its allies.

     

     

    The US led effort to drive Russia from the Middle East by toppling the government of Bashar Assad in Syria, the one secular Arab state where the Russian Federation maintained a significant naval base supporting its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, has been the bellwether in the US initiated struggle with Russia to maintain global “leadership.”  By all parameters, the US proxies in Syria have been defeated. 

    The tide turned for the Assad regime when the Kremlin sent in its air force in September 2015. The game is almost up, and the net result for Russia and net loss for the United States is vastly greater than Syria itself.

    The war zone became testing grounds for Russia’s latest precision weapons systems, command and control, space and drone reconnaissance.  Russia demonstrated capabilities in conventional warfare that none of the NATO countries has separately or even collectively without the United States participation.  

    Russian self-confidence allowed them to feature their actions on television and in real time. All of this, combined with their demonstrated diplomatic skills in working harmoniously with regional states that have difficult relations among themselves, by working in great secrecy, and by showing loyalty to their allies have won for Russia newfound respect in the region and in the world.

    A couple of weeks ago, we received still more interesting news demonstrating Russia’s upper hand in Syria and the Middle East. I have in mind the meeting of the Russian, the Iranian and the Turkish Presidents in Sochi to agree a common approach and procedures for a political settlement in Syria that brings in all domestic parties to the conflict. The three states will be co-guarantors of a congress of the Syrian parties to be convened in Sochi in order to define the parameters of a new inclusive Syrian constitution on the basis of which parliamentary elections can be held and the country can return to normal functioning.  Iran, Turkey and Russia:  once again an “unnatural” coalition brought together by common interest in putting an end to the civil war that is a hotbed of terrorism in the region and in the wider world. It is a major achievement of Russian diplomacy and political will in which the United States is now just a bystander.  The tables have been turned and US “leadership” in the Middle East is waning.

     

    My point is that by pursuing its at times vicious campaign against Russia, the United States has been setting itself up for humiliation.

    These are trend lines that preceded Donald Trump’s accession to power.  His personal contribution through his chaotic administration, inconsistent if not contradictory policy decisions from day to day, unconcealed boorishness and regular betrayal of his close aides and supporters has been to further undermine faith among America’s friends and fear among its detractors. His questioning of NATO has sent European politicians into a fit of confusion and despair. All of this gives greater impetus to the decline of US standing that it will be very hard for any successor in the White House to restore.

     

    However, all the foregoing pales in significance compared to the ongoing risk of WWIII and nuclear Armageddon from the present dismal state of US-Russian relations. There is little communication. There is still less mutual trust.  The two powers operate in war theaters like Syria and Ukraine within close proximity and without well-established rules of conduct that developed in the original Cold War in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Missed signals, accidents in the field can lead unintentionally but surely to the outbreak of hostilities that would escalate very quickly from local events to worst case scenarios on the global level.

    I have little doubt that many of you see this statement as overdramatizing the risk of war.  However, I wager that your feeling of security comes from simply not being informed. 

    Regrettably, the information war that developed over the past several years has entailed news blackouts here in Europe and in the US regarding Russia-sourced news.  Not news about Russia but news coming from Russia, meaning the policy statements, the other side of the argument. 

    Hence, you were not aware of how grave the situation became in September 2016 when US led forces attacked the Syrian positions in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor on the Euphrates killing more than 80 Syrian troops and possibly some Russian advisers as well.  That attack dealt a coup de grace to the cease fire arrangements signed off by US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov less than a week earlier.  As the Russians saw it, the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter overruled the Secretary of State and even the U.S . President who had backed the agreement with the Russians. The Kremlin saw a US government out of control, whose signature on a document means nothing. It cut the lines of communication with the US military command in Syria and threatened to shoot down allied aircraft over Syria.

    Another very sharp confrontation during which the Russians delivered an ultimatum to the United States came in the days following Trump’s cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base 7 April 2017.

    This and other key moments of stress in US-Russian relations that were underreported or simply absent from Western reporting are given due attention in my book.

     

     

    Did it have to be this way?

     

    That is, for my opinion, a strictly rhetorical question. The answer is a resounding “no.”  From 1993, when President Yeltsin visited Warsaw and consented to Poland’s accession to NATO, the Kremlin sought and expected to be admitted to NATO itself. This wish to be integrated into a single security architecture was a consistent theme of Russian foreign policy through the Putin era right up to 2010, when it was reluctantly abandoned for a go-it-alone policy and emphasis on the sovereign state not entangled with security obligations to others.

    Let us recall that in 2001, following the attack on the World Trade Center, Putin was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush to express support for the USA in its hour of confusion and fear. Putin did more than any of our allies to facilitate the US counter-attack in Afghanistan by opening up Russia’s backyard in Central Asia to American forces. He was repaid with a slap in the face: the cancellation of the ABM treaty and the pressing ahead with NATO expansion to the exclusion of Russia.

     

    Is there a way out? a solution?

     

    I do not come before you today with ready, definitive solutions. To do so would be to compromise the principle for which I and others have been fighting for the last several years when all debate and public discussion of our key security risks stopped. It would be to replace one solution arrived at behind closed doors with another arrived at behind closed doors. My first mission is to raise questions, to show that the answers which official Washington has been implementing are poorly conceived and ineffective, not to mention destructive for the Greater Middle East, where we have brought chaos from our democracy promotion.

     

    But having issued that warning, I do not shy from offering a tentative recommendation on how to step back from the abyss and enter on new, more promising paths to dealing with a world order in profound change.

    It took more than two decades for us to reach the present difficult and dangerous confrontation with Russia.  This cannot be resolved with wave of a magic wand.  But there is a way back. 

    And while some see a rosy day of US – Russian strategic cooperation in many areas, I would be content if the chances of accidental or intentional war between these two powers were vastly reduced. This is an objective which I believe is attainable fairly quickly. 

    The Neocons faulted the détente policy with trying to manage a relationship, a coexistence with the Soviet Union which they believed was the wrong goal, when the destruction of the Soviet Union was achievable.   They were almost right. The Soviet Union collapsed, but of its own weight, due to its own contradictions and the failures of Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic policies.

    However, the destruction of Russia, which is arguably the objective of US foreign policy today is unattainable, or comes at the price of collective suicide.  The Russian economy is today very well managed by world class professionals. It is a typically European mixed social and market economy.  Meanwhile, the broad population is mobilized around the leadership and quite patriotic.  We have no choice but to manage relations and coexist with Russia as it is.  In doing so, we will comply with the Kremlin’s insistent demand that its strategic national interests not be violated and that it be treated with respect which it will repay in kind.

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2017

     

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    Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide.

  • Review of "Does the United States Have a Future?" in The Duran

    http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/

     

    This new book shows the future of the US

    Review of a collection of essays on Russian-American relations 2015 – 2017 by one of the US’s top Russia experts

     

    by Alexander Mercouris

    November 19, 2017

    4.4k Views 10 Comments      

     

    One of the most deeply frustrating things for anyone with any knowledge of Russia who has been following the Russiagate saga is the staggering ignorance of basic facts about Russia which is so prevalent amongst elites in the US.

     

    What makes this especially frustrating is that there is actually no shortage of knowledgeable and erudite experts about Russia who could be called upon if any true desire for knowledge about Russia actually existed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

    Of those one who stands out is Gilbert Doctorow, who has been a professional Russia watcher since 1965.

     

    Gilbert Doctorow has now offered us a new book – “Does the United States have a Future” – which brings together his splendid collection of essays about Russia and about Russian-American relations which he has been writing since 2015.

     

    This is of course the same period when in the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis and because of Russia’s intervention in Syria Russian-American relations entered upon their present catastrophic downward spiral, with the US rolling out successive sanctions against Russia, and deploying ever greater numbers of its troops ever closer to Russia’s border.

     

    In this heavy atmosphere of heightened Russian-US tensions, and amidst a shrill media campaign, the Russian side of the story rarely gets told.  What we get instead is an exaggerated focus on the largely misunderstood doings of one man – Vladimir Putin – who is not just routinely blamed for everything that goes wrong – be it Trump’s election, the Brexit vote, the 2015 European refugee crisis, the secessionist outbreak in Catalonia and the rise in Germany of the AfD – but who has become dangerously conflated with Russia itself.

     

    The huge achievement of Gilbert Doctorow’s essays is that they put entirely behind them this disastrous paradigm.

     

    For someone fixated on psychoanalysing Putin’s personality and on learning the gossip about the internal squabbles of the Kremlin, this collection of essays has little to offer.  Doctorow has as little patience for this sort of thing as do I. 

     

    Ultimately far more interesting to anyone genuinely interested in understanding the rapidly recovering Great Power which is Russia, and who wants to get a genuine grasp of the sort of things that move its people, are those essays which touch on topics other Western reporters of Russia tend to ignore.

     

    Here Doctorow’s immense knowledge of Russia and of Russian history is essential, and it shines through every essay.

     

    Thus we find masterful discussions of works about tsarist history by the historian Dominic Lieven, and an outstanding discussion – the best I have come across – of Henry Kissinger’s insights and  limitations as they concern Russia.  There is even a remarkable essay which takes Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina as a starting point to discuss war.

     

    However the single thing which sets the essays which are specifically about Russia apart is the extraordinary rapport Gilbert Doctorow has with Russia’s ‘everyman’.  Take a comment like this one from the very first page of the very first essay in the book, which is dated 30th May 2015.  Against a background of a deepening recession Gilbert Doctorow tells us this:

     

        I say assuredly that the mood across the social spectrum of my “sources” is uniformly patriotic and uncomplaining.  These sources range from the usually outspoken taxi drivers; through the traditionally critical journalists, academics, artists and other intelligentsia who are family friends going back many years, to former business contacts and other elites.

     

    How many of those who report from Russia are able to speak to a wide range of contacts like this?  How many of them pay heed to the opinions of Russia’s “usually outspoken taxi drivers”, reliable purveyors of the public mood though those people are?  How many of those who report from Russia even know how to talk to such people? (confession here: I don’t).

     

    Or take Gilbert Doctorow’s deeply moving account from 10th May 2016 of the March of the Immortal Regiment, held now every year on 9th May to commemorate Russia’s sacrifice in the Second World War.  What other Western reporter of Russia has both the erudition and the common touch necessary to write a passage like this?

     

        Given the manifestly patriotic nature of Victory in Europe Day celebrations, which open in Moscow and cities across Russia with military parades, precise marching columns, displays of military hardware on the ground and in the air, I was uncertain how possibly strident the Immortal Regiment component might be.  As it turned out, the crowd was uniformly good humoured and focused on its private obligations to be met: the celebration of parents, grandparents, even great grandparents’ role in the war and reconfirmation of their status as family heroes whatever their military or civil defence rank, whether they survived or were among the countless fatalities.

     

    Elsewhere Gilbert Doctorow is able to talk knowledgeably in two different essays about the state of the Russian shopping basket – a matter of fundamental importance to Russians and therefore given Russia’s power and importance to everyone – of Russian responses to the Trump-Clinton debate, of the Russian public’s response to one of Putin’s mammoth annual Q&A sessions, and of the steely response – utterly free of sentimentality and hysteria – of the people of St. Petersburg and of Russia generally to a terrorist attack on the city.

     

    Of the essays specifically about Russia, it is however what Doctorow writes about the Russian media which Western readers may find most surprising.

     

    It is now generally conceded even in the West that Russia does have a public opinion, something which tended not to be admitted in Soviet times, though there still seems to be little genuine interest in finding out what it is.

     

    The lazy assumption is anyway that in Russia public opinion is effectively manipulated by the government through its supposedly all-encompassing control of the news media.

     

    Though it is sometimes grudgingly admitted that the printed media does have some independent voices, and that the Russian media now has a degree of sophistication unknown in Soviet times, the prevailing opinion in the West is that it remains every bit as propagandistic and mendacious as it was in Soviet times.  The classic statement of this view is Peter Pomorantsev’s “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia”.

     

    Doctorow’s essays are an important corrective to this bleak and distorted picture.

     

    Doctorow does not sugarcoat the reality.  He concedes that the television media has a bias favouring the Kremlin and that ‘non-system’ politicians whose parties are not represented in the Duma like Kasyanov and Navalny have difficulty gaining access to it.

     

    I would say in passing that Russia’s television media is not exceptional in this.  In my opinion Russian television today is much less controlled by the government than was French television during Charles De Gaulle’s and Georges Pompidou’s time in France, when I was in Paris as a child.

     

    In any event, as a regular participant in Russia’s extraordinarily extended and elaborate political talk-shows – a vital and massively popular information tool for the Russian population – Doctorow shows that the common Western view that Russian television viewers get no exposure to the Western view-point and hear only the Kremlin’s view is simply wrong.  Here is one passage where Doctorow describes them

     

        The regulars of these talk shows are a mix of Russians and foreigners, pro-Kremlin and anti-Kremlin voices.  There inevitably is at least one American who can be counted on to purvey the Washington Narrative.  A reliable regular in this category has been Michael Bohm, who was for a long-time op-ed manager at The Moscow Times and now is said to be teaching journalism in Moscow….

     

        From among Russians, the talk show hosts bring in one or more representative of opposition parties.  On the 11th it happened to be a personality from the Yabloko Party (Liberals).  But at other times there will be the leader of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, the founder of the right nationalist LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, or the leader of the social democratic party, Just Russia, Sergei Mironov.  They all get their time on air in these shows.

     

    Elsewhere Doctorow gives vivid accounts of these sprawling and at times chaotic talk shows, which have no precise analogue anywhere else that I know of.

     

    Doctorow’s book, as its title shows, is not only about Russia.  Rather it is about the collapse of any sort of dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding between the US and Russia.

     

    In essay after essay Doctorow pinpoints the cause: at a time when the Russian mind is becoming increasingly open, the American mind is becoming increasingly closed.

     

    The title of the book – “Does the United States have a future?” – is in fact an intentional exercise in reverse imaging.

     

    At its simplest it refers back to Doctorow’s previous book: “Does Russia have a future?” published in 2015.

     

    However the title of both books must also be seen as a comment on the ‘disaster literature’ about Russia which has become so prevalent in the West, and which continues unabated to this day even as it is repeatedly proved wrong.

     

    Basically what Doctorow is saying is that it is in the US not Russia that the suppression of debate and independent voices is putting the future in jeopardy.

     

    It is in these essays that look at the situation in the US where Doctorow dissects the evolution or rather regression of US policy towards an increasingly strident Russophobia, and where one senses Doctorow’s growing exasperation and alarm.

     

    Take for example what Doctorow has to say about one of the most outspoken Americans calling for ever more confrontation with Russia: NATO’s former military chief General Breedlove

     

        Most everything is wrong with what Breedlove tells us in his article.  It is a perfect illustration of the consequences of the monopoly control of our media and both Houses of Congress by the ideologists of the Neoconservative and Liberal Interventionist school: we see a stunning lack of rigour in argumentation in Breedlove’s article coming from the absence of debate and his talking only to yes men.

     

        Perhaps the biggest mistakes are conceptual: urging military means to resolve what are fundamentally political issues over the proper place of Russia in the European and global security architecture.  Whereas for Clausewitz war was ‘a continuation of politics by other means’, for Breedlove politics, or diplomacy, do not exist, only war.

     

    The alarm in the last paragraph finds still greater emphasis in the essay which immediately precedes ot.  This has the ominous title “The Nuclear Clock is at Two Minutes to Midnight”.

     

    It is however in the closing of the American mind where Doctorow pinpoints the danger

     

        My point is not to ridicule the very earnest and well-intentioned anti-war campaigners whose ranks I joined that day.  It is to demonstrate how and why the highly tendentious reporting of what we are doing in the world and what others are doing to us, combined with the selective news blackouts altogether by major media has left even activists unaware of real threats to peace and to our very survival that American foreign policy has created over the past 20 years and is projected to create into the indefinite future if the public does not awaken from its slumber and demand to be informed by experts of countervailing views.  We are living through a situation unparalleled in our history as a nation where the issues of war and peace are not being debated in public.

     

    Along with the alarm and frustration there is also very real disappointment.

     

    Like most people who lived through the later stages of the Cold War Doctorow remembers a world where the US’s European allies acted as a force of restraint on the US.

     

    Based now in Brussels at the very epicentre of the European Union, Doctorow is shocked at the extent to which this is no longer the case, and at the degree to which the same attitudes of hubris, belligerence and hysteria which have gained such a hold in the US have now also managed to gain a hold in Europe.

     

    Like many others Doctorow is totally unimpressed by the current crop of European politicians, and as someone able to remember the likes of Charles De Gaulle and Helmut Schmidt Doctorow does not balk from expressing his scorn in withering terms.  A good example is to be found in the title of one of his essays: “News flash: Europe is brain dead and on the drip”.

     

    It is in his discussions of Europe that Doctorow allows himself his brief flashes of anger.  Take these comments he makes about Elmar Brok, the truly dreadful chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs

     

        I remember with a shudder an exchange I had with Elmar Brok on 5 March 2015 on The Network, a debate program of Euronews. Brok, a German, is the chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. He comes from Angela Merkel’s CDU party and within the Parliament is in the European People’s Party bloc, on the center right, the bloc which really calls the shots in the EP.

     

        Brok is big, brash and does not hesitate to throw his weight around, especially when talking with someone outside the Establishment whom he has no reason to fear. We were discussing the shooting of Boris Nemtsov, which occurred just days before. Brok insisted the murder was the responsibility of Vladimir Putin. Not that Putin pulled the trigger, but he created the atmosphere where such things could happen, etc., etc. One way or another the talk shifted to the allegedly autocratic nature of the Putin ‘regime,’ with its crackdown on freedoms, and in particular ever tightening control of media.

     

        At that point, I objected that the Russia media were very diverse editorially, with many different points of view expressed freely. Brok shot back that this was patently untrue, and he did not hesitate to cross all red lines and indulge in libel on air by asking how much the Kremlin paid me to say that.

     

        Apart from the obvious truth that an authoritarian like MEP Brok would not know freedom of speech if he tripped on it, I think back to that exchange every week whenever I turn on Russian state television and watch one or another of the main political talk shows.

     

    Doctorow’s strongest feelings of disappointment however remain firmly focused on the US.

     

    Doctorow’s essays show that like many people he entertained very cautiously worded hopes about Donald Trump.

     

    Hillary Clinton after all was the self-styled ‘war candidate’ and the preferred choice of the Neocons, whilst Trump at least spoke of the need for better relations with Russia.

     

    Not for nothing is one of Doctorow’s essays entitled “War or Peace: the essential question before American voters on November 8th”.

     

    Doctorow’s hopes were never very high and like many others he was appalled by the conduct of the 2016 election, which he calls disgraceful.  His essays which follow Trump’s election victory show the speed of his disillusionment.  Not only has Trump proved completely incapable of fulfilling any of Doctorow’s hopes; he seems to have no idea of how to conduct foreign relations, and is rapidly reverting to the aggressive belligerence which is now the default position of all US Presidents.

     

    In the meantime his election has heightened partisan tensions within the US to unheard of levels.

     

    In his final chapter, which has the same title – “Does the United States have a future?” – as the whole book, Doctorow sets out the consequences.

     

    A US which twenty years ago bestrode the world is now incapable of governing itself, whilst its increasingly reckless conduct is spreading conflict and alarm around the world.

     

    Not only has trust in “American leadership” as a result all but collapsed but the two other Great Powers – Russia and China – have been completely alienated, and are busy forging an alliance whose combined resources will soon dwarf those of the US.

     

    About all that the US however remains in denial, as it is about the world crisis its actions are generating.  In a political system where all dissenting opinions are excluded it cannot by definition be otherwise.  Thus the US looks set to continue on its present ruinous course, with no ability to change direction

     

        ….a still greater threat to our democracy and to the sustainability of our great power status has come from the inverse phenomenon, namely the truly bipartisan management of foreign policy in Congress.  The Republican and Democratic Party leaderships have maintained strict discipline in promotion of what are Neoconservative and Liberal Interventionist positions on every issue placed before Congress.  Committees on security and foreign affairs invite to testify before them only those experts who can be counted upon to support the official Washington narrative.  Debate on the floor of the houses is nonexistent.  And the votes are so lopsided as to be shocking, none more so than the votes in August on the “Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act”….

     

        It would be comforting if the problems of our political culture began and ended with the elites operating in Washington DC.  However that is patently not the case.  The problem exists across the country in the form of a stifling conformism, or groupthink that is destroying the open marketplace for ideas essential for any vital democracy.

     

    I recognise the accuracy of this picture and am prey to no illusion.  However in my opinion it is still too early to give up hope.

     

    Trump’s victory, if it shows nothing else, shows that there is more resistance to the ‘groupthink’ in the US than Doctorow in these passages perhaps allows.  What is the Russiagate hysteria after all if not the expression of a collective nervous breakdown on the part of the US elite at the discovery that the American people as a whole do not share their obsessions?

     

    A state of hysteria of the sort we are going through now cannot be sustained indefinitely.  Eventually a reaction will set in, at which point those at the forefront in spreading the hysteria will be exposed as the charlatans that they are, whilst many of those they fooled will feel ashamed.

     

    When that point comes it is good to know from this outstanding collection of essays that there are still genuine experts available that the US can call upon to guide its policies like Gilbert Doctorow.

                       

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    Does the United States Have a Future? is available on order from all retail and online bookstores. It is available for immediate delivery from www.amazon.com and affiliated Amazon websites in the UK, Germany, France and Japan, among others.

     

                               

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