The accusations between London, Washington and Moscow continue to fly back and forth, along with retaliations and threats. It would be childish if the stakes were not so frighteningly high. My immediate reaction to all this is to believe the absolute worst of all political figures, both East and West. I never trust anyone in politics. All politicians are guilty until proved innocent in my book. The reason is simple. Even when I am feeling particularly optimistic about my species, I think that only half of them are truthful. The rest are shameless liars. The problem, to paraphrase a grammar school riddle, is that when asked, everyone will immediately claim to be a truth teller. For example, when Vladimir Putin was asked if he actually ordered the Litvinenko murder, of course he denied everything. And when George Bush was asked if he ordered the invasion of Iraq, that has so far lead to the deaths of well over half a million innocent Iraqis, simply to get at the oil, or to get revenge on Saddam Hussein for attempting to assassinate his father, Mr. Bush also immediately denied the accusations. Lets be clear. Guilty or not, of course Bush would deny having ordered the use of torture in Guantanamo Bay, just as Putin would deny complicity in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. I know that in these comparisons, I am skipping over vast differences in numbers. But didn’t Stalin say “when one person dies it’s a tragedy, when millions die its statistics”?
Stalin’s quote brings up another complexity that’s even more confounding to anyone really interested in truth. In addition to out and out lies, there is the simple fact that very often truth depends on one’s point of view. For example, the British are well known for a stubborn instance on the rule of law. Anyone, regardless of station, who commits a crime in London must be tried and punished, even if it means extradition against the laws of another country. It doesn’t matter if London itself is harboring heinous criminals at the same time. The poodle-like loyalty that lead England into an illegal war in Iraq along side their American friends shows that either the stubborn British instance on the rule of law can become a little lax at times, or else they see these issues from a rather different vantage point than most of the world. This moral stigmatism isn’t a particularly British trait.
Things are no different in other countries. The Americans heartily condemn the state control of big oil in Russia and Venezuela, but see nothing wrong when big oil controls their own government. And Russia isn’t innocent either. Russia claims to be a democracy with a constitution that guarantees equal rights to all its citizens just as homosexuals are savagely beaten and arrested by the police for simply walking down the streets of Moscow or even Saint Petersburg. A resurgent Orthodox Church heartily approves. I guess Russia is still a little new at this “freedom” thing and may have a few lessons still to learn. Free speech isn’t about protecting the speech you love, it’s about protecting the speech you hate the most. And it would be a huge tragedy in my opinion if Russia had to re-learn the great lesson that extent of a Nation’s freedom is often precisely the distance between Church and State.
I suppose my point is that governments and the people who run them often see things from their own points of view and don’t exactly feel constrained by the same bounds of truth, justice and decency as the rest of us normally do. In fact, they never have. Kings and Queens since Julius Caesar have considered themselves above the law and answerable only to God. And the Churches always kept a healthy store of dry faggots on hand for anyone who questioned this dogma of the divine right of kings. With that idea, Churches around the world helped prop up “regimes” which for centuries kept lavish wealth in the hands of a very few and reduced the rest of humanity back to the status of wild animals, or even worse. Yes, today the regimes have mostly fallen and the perpetrators have paid various prices for their crimes. Russia was particularly harsh on those who violated the ancient Slavic dream of equality. The British and their American children were perhaps most forgiving.
Its just my opinion, but I think that maybe this is why the Americans and British are such good friends with the remnants of the old aristocracy that still survives in the Arab world and why they continue to protect and nurture its recreation around the globe. Now they have new names for it. They call it “capitalism” and “globalization”, and they make them sacred terms by using an educational system and a mass media that’s largely on the take. People who don’t immediately agree and wag their heads up and down like obedient dogs are either traitors, insane or fools. Another difference today is that the Churches don’t provide the muscle anymore.
That deal sort of fell through a few centuries ago. The priests have other interests now that include spreading bigotry and trying to get people to have as many children as possible. Why, I can’t imagine. Anyway, if a little skepticism were more wide spread in the world it would have been harder for Dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Mao to murder hundreds of millions of people in the last unhappy century. And it would be a lot harder for men like Bush to lead us down that same path again today, by helping to create and protect a new aristocracy. So my first suggestion is that people in all countries ought to become a little more skeptical and a little less trustful of what governments and the people who run them say about themselves and about each other. When nationalism and politics become sacred, they invariably lead to the same bad ends as religion: thirty years wars, reigns of terror, burnings at the stake, mass executions, and so on. It gets ugly.
Skepticism and critical thinking will go along way to protecting our common future.
But what defense does the average person really have? What super human power keeps governments in check? What protection do we have against the rising of a new aristocracy? First and foremost, our best weapon is democracy. Behind all the rhetoric, the operational genius of democracy is that it issues to all citizens an equal number of “political dollars”. Each person gets one vote, which they can peacefully exchange, at election time, for the redistribution of real economic dollars. Used wisely, the power of the ballot box is a huge break on aristocracy. But democracy alone is not enough. History teaches that the world is safest when the natural tendency of governments toward self-aggrandizement is contained by a balance of power. That is to say, peace and freedom are best maintained when the power wielded by any one State is contained and offset by the power of other States. For example, if Saddam Hussein really did have operational weapons of mass destruction, it is very doubtful that the Bush Administration would have been so bold as to invade Iraq.
Even Bush, the cowboy, would have been deterred and the American people would have been spared a bloody, pointless and hugely expensive war. For an even better example, look at Europe today, peaceful and cooperative at last. It is difficult to imagine this pleasant state of affairs had Russia not acquired nuclear weapons in the 1950s. The Russian-American stand-off, called the cold war, allowed Europe the opportunity for peaceful and democratic development. It is interesting that 50 years of being in between crazy Russians and Americans, yelling at each other and threatening to destroy the world, was just what European countries needed to start seeing reason. And this example brings me to the heart of my discussion. The world today needs a strong and democratic Russia.
It would be an over-simplification to think that the only reason why the world needs a strong and free Russia is to credibly contain American adventurism. I do not think that Russia, by herself, is a good counter-weight to the United States on a long-term basis. The geopolitical interests of the two countries are too similar. For example, it is hard to believe that Moscow and Washington are really at odds over a missile defense system in Europe. The idea that Russia is a threat to Europe, her number one customer for gas and oil, doesn’t make sense. Historically, Russia is one of the least aggressive of all European nations. And the American excuse that the missile defense system is really to protect Europe against Iran doesn’t make sense either. Iran has no long-range missiles that are a threat to Europe and it is impossible to imagine that her neighbors would allow her to develop them.
The only country that has such weapons, and that could pose a real and present threat to Europe, is China. But of course, since the Chinese hold almost 1 trillion dollars in American Treasury bonds, the Americans are in no position to speak of such things openly. And of course, the huge border that Russia shares with China means that Russia would also be ill advised to engage in such open discussions. But regardless of where the truth lies with this particular issue, a strong and free Russia, because of her unique position in both Europe and Asia, because of her rich natural resources and culture, and because of her special history down through the centuries, is very necessary to keep the peace and to serve as counter weight against extremes, both East and West.
Russia is given to extremes herself, but free or not, history shows that Russia is far more dangerous when she is weak than when she is strong. In the past, a weak Russia has been so tempting to invaders as to be almost a provocation. A strong Russia has consistently saved Western Civilization. In the distant past, it was Russia that finally threw back the Mongol hordes. More recently, Russian blood bought the world freedom from Napoleon and from Hitler, although almost no one even says thank you. Russia has it in her nature to be strong and free. She has produced some of the world’s greatest art, literature, music and science. Her geography covers some 30% of the all the land in the world. Russia fancies herself the third Rome. It is unimaginable that any external force could keep Russia from her destiny, or from fulfilling her global responsibilities. As always, the biggest threats to a strong and free Russia are internal. We can only hope that real democracy has finally taken root in Russian soil and in Russian hearts, and that the ancient Slavic dream of equality will help temper the excesses of an unbridled capitalism gone global. This is why I believe that the world needs a strong and democratic Russia.
Dominick L. Auci, Ph.D.