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William Marina: The Russians Are Coming! To Iraq?

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! - To Iraq?

September 25, 2004
By William Marina

Both the U.S. and Russian empires face a similar problem—how to put down raging insurgencies which do not hesitate to kill civilians in attacks that rival those launched by the imperial forces themselves.

In the case of the Russians, President Vladimir Putin has used the horrendous attack on a school in Beslan by Chechen rebels to introduce anti-democratic, centralizing changes that will make Russia more authoritarian. So much for the budding democracy there!

In the face of international criticism, Putin is seeking support for his actions. Apparently in the face of attacks by Senator John Kerry, President George W. Bush did criticize Putin, but The Financial Times (September 16) cited Professor Peter Reddaway of George Washington University that “U.S. domestic politics were playing a big part in Mr. Bush’s remarks” and “it remained to be seen whether the U.S. would translate rhetoric into tougher action.” The New York Times also called attention to Mr. Bush’s rather “guarded critique” of Putin’s actions.

In The Weekly Standard (September 8), neoconservative William Kristol had already urged that “We must make common cause” with the Russians, while Martin Wolf replied ( Financial Times, September 21) that “We embrace Putin at our peril.”

As reported in The Observer (September 19), the British announced an October cut of one third of their 5,000 troops in Iraq. Heralded as the second largest contingent in the “Coalition of the Willing” after the U.S. military, this has long been untrue. American private mercenaries, now at about 30,000, with more being trained each day by Halliburton, constitute the second largest Coalition force in Iraq.

All of this occurs as the U.S. military admits that numerous towns are under the control of the insurgents, but vows to retake these before the “democratic” elections scheduled for January. Given the growing manpower shortages of the U.S.’s regular forces, how will this be accomplished?

Just as during most of 2002 the Bush Administration quietly planned for war, while claiming to pursue international diplomacy to solve its problems with Saddam Hussein, the same kind of secret planning may be underway with the aim of securing Russian help in Iraq.

Back on July 16, the American intelligence web site broke the news of a long-rumored negotiation for the Russians to deploy 40,000 troops in Iraq before the end of this year, in time for the January elections. This was denied by the Russian Foreign Ministry on July 20, as noted in The Asian Times (July 27), but that same day, Izvestia, the pro-government Russian newspaper, approved the idea of “Russian peacekeepers in the Sunni belt in Iraq,” concluding that, given the Russians good relations there, “the Russian leadership should consider this option quite carefully.”

The escalating crisis in Chechnya, and the deteriorating situation in Iraq, suggest that both the U.S. and the Russians are still considering such an agreement. For Bush, the advantage of Russian help is obvious. Even though the polls seem to show increasing support for the President, these do not translate into stability in Iraq before the elections here or there.

As U.S. tactics of violence against civilians in Iraq increase, egged on by the U.S.’s Israeli advisors (Associated Press, December 13, 2003) to use helicopters and bulldozers in sustained attacks on urban neighborhoods, the Russians have long demonstrated few qualms at killing civilians on a large scale.

What’s in this for the Russians beyond justifying their actions in Chechnya?

As noted by the commentator “Spengler” in The Asian Times (August 3) the U.S. strategy in Central Asia has proven to be “dead wrong.” Policy makers such as Paul Wolfowitz imagined that replacing one secular regime in Iraq with a new one would protect Israel and bring stability to the region. Instead, these actions have aided Islamic fundamentalism as well as Al Qaeda, and have destabilized the whole region from Egypt to Pakistan.

Ironically, Turkey, the one once-solid secular regime in the area, has once again become the “sick man”, as fundamentalist forces increase there. Given Russia’s oil fields in the Black Sea and the oil throughout Central Asia, cooperation with the U.S. over pipelines offers a way for the two empires, Russia and the U.S., to counter the rise of Islamic fundamentalism there.

As empires evolve they tend to adopt similar tactics for survival. The Harvard advocate for empire, Samuel P. Huntington, was wrong in the 1960s when he argued that while U.S. forces had trouble with rural guerrillas in Vietnam, they could easily handle an urban insurgency—Iraq has exposed that nonsense! He was also fundamentally wrong in the 1990s with the notion of “a clash of civilizations” which as Arnold Toynbee argued in the 1940s, instead borrow enormously from each other, just as Huntington is wrong more recently about Hispanic-Americans.

Whether or not the Russians “come” to our aid in Iraq this year, and there is a good chance they will, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the U.S. is “coming” to resemble Russia as our institutions have evolved from those of a free republic to those of the sprawling statism of empire. This has been occurring for over a century now, and is not likely to be halted abruptly, certainly not by the actions of either Bush or Kerry. The U.S. consequently seems all too willing to build alliances with other empires, and to adopt culturally more and more, the horrendous aspects of imperial rule.


William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University.

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