09/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mikhail Gorbachev Sets the Record Straight

In the op-ed section of today's New York Times, Mikhail Gorbachev, in an article entitled "Russia Never Wanted a War," lays out the underlying reasons for the recent events in Georgia and the chill they have caused in U.S.-Russian relations.

Gorbachev writes:

"Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here's the independence of Kosovo for you. Here's the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here's the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?"

Since taking power in 2001, George W. Bush and the neo-cons who run his foreign policy have treated the Russian Federation like a banana republic. They never made any attempt to recognize Russia's legitimate interests, especially along its frontiers. Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gleefully announced Poland's acceptance of a U.S. anti-ballistic missile system. She claims it is "defensive" in nature. But no one in the world believes her, nor should they. Rice's credibility is in the negative integers. The sooner we are rid of her the better. She even made the ludicrous claim that the Polish system is not aimed at thwarting Moscow's influence in Eastern Europe. The only "accomplishment" of this move will be to make Poland a prime target for the Russian military.

Compounding the many other foreign policy failures of George W. Bush is the United States' current state of brain-dead bluff and bluster against Russia. When John McCain talks about Russia he sounds like he thinks the Berlin Air Lift happened last Tuesday. He appears to be more stuck in the dangerous, outmoded Cold War paradigm than anyone else in the Establishment. And we might elect this guy president.

But McCain is not alone. There is a "consensus" emerging among American foreign policy elites, which posits that everything Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his government have done in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is nearly divine in its perfection and everything the Russians have done in response is close to unalloyed evil. Everyone I've read lately, from Samantha Power and Zbigniew Brzezinski to Strobe Talbott and Thomas Pickering have willfully chosen to ignore the American invasion and occupation of Iraq and what that has done to America's ability to exercise its so-called soft power to counter Russian behavior. This kind of Manichean thinking brought us bloodbath after bloodbath in the 20th century. The Cold War was always cast in the light of "good" versus "evil" with disastrous results in Vietnam, Central America, Indonesia, and the Middle East.

Gorbachev also points out that the news coverage of recent events "has been far from fair and balanced, especially during the first days of the crisis." The bloody assault by Georgian forces on the South Ossetian city of Tskhinvali beginning on August 7th went all but unnoticed by the corporate media. The "planners of this campaign," Gorbachev writes, "clearly wanted to make sure that, whatever the outcome, Russia would be blamed for worsening the situation. The West then mounted a propaganda attack against Russia, with the American news media leading the way."

Mikhail Gorbachev was formerly the Rightwing's favorite Russian because he presided over the final dissolution of the hated Soviet state. Now we are sure to hear full-throated denunciations of Gorbachev for being naive or worse. It's amazing how uniform American elite opinion and media commentary have become regarding the recent Russian incursion into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Iraq war is all but forgotten; airbrushed out of our recent history. Part of "diplomacy" is supposed to include the attempt to see the world through the eyes of others, especially one's adversaries. The neo-cons running Bush's foreign policy apparatus, especially Condi Rice, have never made any attempt to do that with Russia.

Back in 1967, the great Cornell historian Walter LaFeber published, America, Russia and the Cold War, and he has updated the book with new editions ever since. It has become part of the canon in college courses on 20th century foreign policy. But when the book first came out right-wingers of all stripes were incensed that LaFeber acknowledged Russia's perspective of the world and did not gloss over American actions that contributed to creating the Cold War. The conservatives denounced him as a "revisionist," which always gets a laugh from professional historians because it is a meaningless label since we are constantly "revising" our historiography. But hearing the recent commentary among foreign policy elites and the corporate media tells me that we have learned nothing from the history of the Cold War (other than Ronald Reagan single-handedly "won" it for the USA). People should read LaFeber's book before pontificating about "isolating" Russia.

Also, we should keep in mind that we would need a military draft in this country, and soon, if we were to act on any of these aggressive postures we've been hearing from foreign policy elites lately.

Toward Russia and many other countries U.S. policy has been little more than ham-handed attempts at bullying and intimidation. It's depressing to find "liberal" foreign policy gurus like Power, Brzezinski, and Talbott on the same page as neo-conservative crazies like Dick Cheney, William Kristol, and John Bolton. The mindset of these "experts" is stuck in the outmoded Cold War paradigm. They seem to have learned nothing from the two world wars that destroyed most of Europe in the 20th century, or the Cold War itself, which nearly bankrupted the United States and wired up the world for Armageddon with nuclear missiles. They also fail to see how the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq has profoundly shifted the international dynamic. The United States has killed far more innocent people in Iraq than Russia has killed in Georgia.

But foreign policy "experts" from both Democratic and Republican administrations are expending a lot of energy right now denouncing the Russians. They claim that the missile defense systems in Eastern Europe are necessary to counter Iran's non-existent missiles; they say that nations have a right to join any multilateral organization they wish (like NATO); and they claim that borders must be respected and military action should not be employed to secure geopolitical objectives. Their battle cries might even influence the outcome of the November elections.

George W. Bush recently said: "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century." It would have been nice if he had sincerely recognized this truth about eight years ago. The human costs of the First and Second World Wars show that "bullying and intimidation" didn't work out so well in the 20th century either. We fought on the same side as the Russians in the two biggest wars of the last century. Did the fog of the Cold War erase this fact from our collective memory? Russia is not our enemy. And a shooting war with the Russians is unthinkable. So let's take a deep breath and not allow the Republicans to use this latest increase in East-West hostilities to their domestic political advantage like they did for decades during the Cold War.

Landing on aircraft carriers wearing a flight suit and declaring "Mission Accomplished" doesn't send out a warm and fuzzy message to the world. And what is "Shock and Awe" but bullying and intimidation? Beginning in September 2002, the "Bush Doctrine" reserves for the United States the right to attack any nation in the world as part of the "War on Terror." We must not overlook the international ramifications of the U.S. invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. It undermines everything the U.S. government has said about Russia's much smaller scale military action in its border state of Georgia. The United States no longer has the credibility in the eyes of the world to play its former leadership role. This state of impotence could be Bush's most lasting "legacy."