Thursday, March 31, 2011

A voice from the past

Back in the 1980ies, Soviet newspapers and magazines were finally freed from the diktat of the communist regime, and they started publishing enormous amounts of anti-communist material. For more than half a century, most popular Russian writers could not show their best stories and novels to the readers - or they had to severely self-censor in order to be published. The authors who left USSR were completely cut off from the Russian public. But at last, the gates were open, and we could see the enormity of Russian literature of the 20th century - from Bunin and Nabokov to Bulgakov, Erofeev and Dovlatov.  Some of the people (and this surely includes my family) have read some of the books forbidden by the regime - but even we had only a glimpse of the great works of the Russian writers of that period.

In the 1980ies, magazine "Ogonek" was probably the most popular among the Soviet public - it was read by everyone, from a conscripted soldier to a party functionary and a university academic. Ogonek was an openly anti-communist magazine and at the time it was most hated by left media outlet in the entire country - the members of Politburo regularly discussed its articles and just as regularly demanded Gorbachev to close it, or to change its editor-n-chief, Vitali Korotich.

A few words about Korotich. Before perestroika, he was a normal, average member of the communist nomenclatura, smoothly moving from one post to another. But when Gorbachev put him in charge of a popular Soviet magazine, he waked up from the sleep and became a devoted anti-communist. It's not as strange as it sounds - after all, communism was a state religion in the USSR, and heretics were regularly sent to Siberia for re-education. But once Gorbachev removed the whip, no carrots in the world could keep Russian intelligentsia at the feet of the communist party. And boy, did they pay back for the years of communist oppression!

I think it was in 1991 or so, when Korotich shared a rather amusing anecdote from his life. At some point (this was after perestroika), Korotich travelled to US to give a lecture about Soviet Union to an American audience - I assume it were mostly American professors, intellectuals and the like who came to his presentation. Mind you, these were supposedly highly "educated" and "credentialed" Americans, most of the them were familiar with the works of Solzhenitsyn. For about 2 hours, Korotich patiently explained the horrors of communist regimes, portrayed the cruelty of Stalinism and described how the Soviet leaders ruthlessly punished any dissent. During the Q-n-A session, a woman stood up and proceeded to ask a question. Here is what she said: "I understand that Stalin killed millions of people and sent tens of millions of people to forced labor camp. I also understand that he silenced all his critics. But I still cannot understand one thing - why hasn't anyone called the police?!" Korotich said in his article that this question left him completely speechless. He understood that there was nothing in the world that he could say to this woman.

And this is pretty much what I feel right now when I watch an American senator, Dianne Feinstein "usually considered one of the clearer Democratic thinkers on national security and the military in Congress" wonder if the world can simply arrest Muamar Kaddafi for crimes of humanity. Wouldn't that be simpler than a ground invasion?! I now know exactly how Korotich felt...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Say, nu...

I was reading the recent articles about Obama's refusal to seek Congressional authorization of the Libyan war - and one thought came to my mind. Isn't this a bigger offense than Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal? After all, Reagan's only crime was to supply weapons to the Nicaraguan patriots who fought against the communist scumbags. This Obama character is bombing a sovereign country to the smithereens (granted, Kaddafi and his thugs richly deserve it), and he is now talking about supplying the pro-Al Qaeda rebels with US weaponry (again, without Congressional authorization, let alone the fact that it's against the UN resolution which put an arms embargo). Obama's policy is not only illegal - it's worse - it's stupid and it is harmful to the American people. WTF? Has our affirmative action professor gone kinetic?

The Obama doctrine

I am sure that many of my readers are aware that American President finally rented the time on TV and explained the reasons for American war against Libya. It's a bit disappointing that it took him 10 days to gather all the courage to face the nation - but it's better late than never. For some reason, Obama failed to explain why he did not seek the approval of the US Congress (an impeachable offense according to Vice-President Biden and Senator Obama), but we cannot expect our President to tackle all the issues at once. I assume he will explain why he changed his mind on the presidential powers some time later (but probably before 2012). But all jokes aside - our President took his time to explain the Obama doctrine of American foreign policy. I don't want to tire you with the details - since the most succinct summary of the speech was written by a famous liberal journalist, Thomas L. Friedman: "Dear Lord, please make President Obama lucky."

At this point, American foreign policy is run based on a hope that Obama somehow will get lucky, and things will turn out okay in the Middle East. "Hope-n-Change" now runs on prayer.

 As Thomas-the-believer wrote:
"I hope Qaddafi’s regime collapses like a sand castle, that the Libyan opposition turns out to be decent and united and that they require just a bare minimum of international help to get on their feet. " Thomas left out Egypt in his prayer - after all, it could be rather dangerous if Moslem Brotherhood (a mostly secular organization according to Obama administration) will seize the power in one of the largest nations in the Middle East and declare (mostly secular) jihad against Israel and US.

Anyway, it's quite humbling to see one liberal intellectual who believes only dumb luck can now fix the policies of another liberal intellectual. This is not exactly the common behaviour among the university professors from my time. As Cicero famously said - "о tempora, о mores!"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two stories, 9 years apart

Missiles strike Libya in first wave of allied assault  - March 2011

BENGHAZI, Libya — A coalition of American and European forces bombed Libyan targets by air and sea Saturday in the first phase of a military campaign to drive Moammar Gadhafi from power.

French warplanes fired the first shots in the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war, destroying government tanks and armored vehicles in the region of the rebels' eastern stronghold, Benghazi. Hours later, British and U.S. warships and submarines launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles against Gadhafi's air defenses around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gadhafi's forces, Pentagon officials said.

Early Sunday morning, several loud explosions were heard in Tripoli, followed by what sounded like bursts of anti-aircraft fire.

Libyan state TV on Sunday quoted the government's armed forces command as saying 48 people were killed and 150 wounded in the allied assault. The statement said most of the casualties were children. The report could not be independently confirmed.

The aim of the coalition's operation, dubbed Odyssey Dawn, was to enforce a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya and stop Gadhafi from attacking overwhelmed rebel forces in the east.

"This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought," President Barack Obama said from Brazil, where he is starting a five-day visit to Latin America. "We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy."

Less than two hours after Obama spoke, Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya for 41 years, said in a telephone call to Libyan state TV that he will arm civilians to defend Libya from "colonial, crusader" aggression.

"It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honor of Libya," Gadhafi said.

"We call on the peoples and citizens of the Arab and Islamic nations, Latin America, Asia and Africa to stand by the heroic Libyan people to confront this aggression, which will only increase the Libyan people's strength, firmness and unity."

Barack Obama's Iraq Speech, October 2002
Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.

The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.

My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka [HA: Both Auschwitz and Treblinka were in Poland]. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.

I don’t oppose all wars.

After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income — to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Now let me be clear — I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.

You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.

You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.

You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn’t simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.

Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance, corruption and greed, poverty and despair.

The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not — we will not — travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.