Since 9/11 I have been mulling over the words of Georgi Arbatov pinned on the wall above my desk. I don’t believe in conspiracies, and I strive to keep my distance from the sophisticates of the Chomsky school of conspiracy-peddlers. But I do believe in what Barbara Tuchman described so well in The March of Folly. Folly, it seems to me, is the most severe and unforgiving sin of politicians, especially politicians responsible for the security of societies in advanced cultures of relative freedom, such as ours at this time in history. As Martin Walker, then the Moscow correspondent for the Guardian, reported in August 1992, Arbatov said to him: “We are going to do the worst thing we possibly can to America — we are going to take away their enemy.” Arbatov, you might recall, was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, responsible for keeping track of Soviet-American relations.
Arbatov — now looking back nearly twenty years later in deconstructing his words — seemed to possess a piercing understanding, as student of history, of the American scene, and how it could likely unfold over time in the post-Soviet and post-Communist era. His words to Walker were more insightful than any offered by just about all the left-leaning talking heads and commentators, in the U.S., Canada, and Europe put together. Arbatov understood, given his experience sitting in the privileged seat of the party in Moscow during the Brezhnev period, how the existence of Communist Russia checked the forces of the left in the West, keeping them from gaining influence and power. Now, as Arbatov reflected, since the Soviet Union as a military superpower had collapsed and the threat of Soviet Communism was discarded in the so-called dustbin of history, the spoiled children and beneficiaries of the West’s longest and strongest economic expansion and technological achievements, unparalleled in history, would set forth to do what the Soviet Union could not do — to advance the aim of Communism to wreck liberal capitalism from the inside.
Just ponder how a third-rate community organizer — from the most incestuously corrupt political region in the U.S.; with a record of participation in the most vulgar gathering of Jeremiah Wright posing as a reverend, spouting Fanonian rhetoric and bigotry; with mentors such as the unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers; channelling the teachings of Saul Alinsky and Rashid Khalidi of the Chomsky school of self-loathing and sophistry — could advance through the ranks of American politics at an astounding speed, with little or no record of experience in government, to become the 44th president. In one of my columns from 2008 for the Sun Media in Canada, I had written in disbelief, as I watched the primaries unfold, of how American voters could be so beguiled by a charlatan of the Harold Hill type from The Music Man and vote for Obama. I was wrong in my overestimation of reason and experience among American voters as a check on the naivete of the university crowd and the duplicity of Lenin’s “useful idiots” in free societies. One of the lessons from 2008, for me, is this: how can I now scold Egyptians for wanting freedom and democracy behind the banners of the Muslim Brotherhood when their experience with electoral politics is negligible, and their history of 7,000 years offer little guidance for what freedom requires — respect for the other and not mistaking freedom for licentiousness?
There is not a very long arc connecting the joyful news of Soviet disintegration with the painfully distressing slide of American politics framed for posterity in the election of Obama. Arbatov did not nor, even if he had indulged in irresponsible speculation, could have predicted such an eventuality in American politics. But he had it right, it seems to me, for what he meant was the presence of the Soviet Union placed upon liberal democracies, led by the U.S., a discipline and a check upon the excesses and follies of democracy. But once this discipline was removed it would lead to a bacchanalia in the West, the near instant raising of the slogan “end of history” even as the dust from the tearing down of the Berlin Wall had not settled, and this lack of discipline combined with the “flower children” of the sixties coming of age and grasping for power, would bring about a situation, Arbatov imagined, that would do more damage than the old men of the Communist plutocracy could ever deliver without committing suicide of their own.