~ 24 May 2004 ~

Iraq and the Lessons of a “Sort of Free” Russia

As our eyes are on Iraq and transitioning a dictatorship into a democray of the people, two important writings of late have been looking at how things are going in Russia.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Andrew Higgins examines the fact that while the Russian free economy has improved, the free political scene has regressed [subs. req’d]:

For more than a decade, Washington and its favorites in Moscow embraced a seductive theory: Free markets would anchor free democratic politics in post-Soviet Russia by creating prosperity and property owners. Now capitalism has vanquished communism across the former Soviet empire, destroyed Marxism as a global rival to America’s free-market creed and, after years of turbulence, brought Russia robust growth. But Russians’ faith in Western-style democracy has withered. Liberal economics and liberal politics, instead of being an inseparable tandem, have drifted apart. Many Russians even see the two as at odds.

Richard Pipes, a prominent scholar of Russian history, has also written in Foreign Affairs of how Russians are happy to settle for a less-than-free society. The article is unavailable for free online but here is the article summary:

Critics decry Vladimir Putin for turning Russia into a one-party state. But polls suggest that Russians actually approve of his actions by sizable majorities, caring little for core Western principles such as democratic liberties and civil rights.

Pipes suggests that Russians have always sought strong leadership. At the popular level the Russian people have always wanted someone else to shoulder the political responsibiliy for them. As long as they are fed and housed, Pipes suggests, Russians will be apathetic toward government.

This all reminds me of Jeffrey Tayler’s 2001 Atlantic Monthly article on the condition of Russia (aha! this one is free online!):

Faced with such danger, disarray, corruption, and deceit (most of which is well publicized by the Russian media: news shows frequently amount to chronicles of bribery, death, and dismemberment), Russians have stopped feeling outrage and have resigned themselves. The murder of an entrepreneur “as a result of his business activity” (to quote a phrase beloved by militia press centers) arouses no surprise, only a shrug. The excesses of mobsters on a Moscow street provoke no indignation, only envy. It is accepted that the chaos and contradictory laws benefit those in power—that the state has abandoned its people to the thugs because it is in league with them. In any case, those in power, be they mafiozy or the government, have the guns; thoughts of overt resistance are rare.

We certainly need to take a lesson from Russia in dealing with Iraq. While the United States wasn’t in a nation-building role with Russia as we are with Iraq, certain questions need to be asked. Can the underlying worldview of Iraqis sustain a democratic government? Do those with the appropriate political and philosophical underpinnings have access to positions of leadership, or will thugs rule with puppet strings from behind?

Only time will tell for sure, but I pray that questions like these are being addressed. The outcome of dismissing such ideas? Pipes predicts that Putin’s thirst for military power will only increase, with hopes to return Russia’s status as a superpower. If we’re not careful, we run the risk of another Sadaam Hussein arising out of Iraq’s political ashes.

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