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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Annals of the Russophile Menace

Yesterday, La Russophobe ran an excellent piece from Newsweek magazine exposing how Russia has alienated the entire world by pursuing its neo-Soviet agenda of hatred for the West. The question now for Russia is what to do, and as always the country is presented with two choices: (a) admit it is going down the wrong path, and reform; (b) deny there is problem on Russia's side and blame everything on the West.

Since it began publishing the Moscow Times has been committed to seeking out Russophiles who would embrace the second option publicly. La Russophobe has always been curious as to whether they do this so they can appear "fair and balanced" when more weighty writers rip the Kremlin to shreds, or because they want to display the Russophile Menance in all its amazing outrage (reader comment on this question is very welcome).

Either way, enter English teacher Mark H. Teeter's column on America'a image problem in Russia. Yes, that's right, it's America's fault, and we need to shape up but quick lest we lose the munificent wonder of Russia's good graces. Here's the idiocy in full (and in black), with LR's running commentary (in red):

The Pew Global Attitudes Project reported late last month that favorable views of the United States were on the decline among Russians in 2005-06, while unfavorable views rose, overtaking the positives by a margin of 47 percent to 43 percent.

LR: Now, let's be clear at the outset. This Teeter fellow has a vested financial interest in cuddling up to the Russians, who like nothing better than to have foreigners confirm for them that their insane, paranoid views of the outside world are correct. He lives among them and works for them. They'll lap this stuff up like a plate full of cream, and they'll no doubt reward him accordingly.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush likely lost little sleep over this news, preoccupied as it was with the mismanagement of two wars (in Iraq and on terror) and the continuing fallout from a massive electoral rejection at home. And even without its current mega-crises, the current U.S. regime would hardly have blinked at such a trend. One of this administration's hallmarks is an Olympian indifference to what others -- other governments, nations, individuals, flora, fauna, you name it -- think about the United States. For that matter, the Pew data could be seen as merely a popular confirmation of the state of the two countries' official relations. The ineptness of the Bush people has been matched by the clumsiness of their Russian counterparts, producing a chill that has made the phrase "Cold War II" seem decreasingly hyperbolic over the past year.

LR: This is completely insane, the signal hallmark of today's Russophile. George Bush, more than any other person alive outside Russia, has bent over backward to flatter and accomodate "President" Putin. And this is what he gets for his trouble, classic Russian ingratitude. Does this moron really think that attacking the Bush regime is the best way to convince America to change it's image in Russia? Apparently so.

Yet however unpopular the current U.S. administration has made itself and its country among Russians, it would be premature to assume that further anti-American drift in Russian public opinion is inevitable over the final two Bush years. Historians and various "old Russia hands" will testify that Russian perceptions of the United States have a history of fluctuation -- and that some periods of U.S. popularity have occurred when official relations were perhaps as strained as they are now.

LR: If you can manage to read this drivel to the end, you will see that Mr. Teeter doesn't give one single practical reason for Americans to care what Russians think of them, nor does he take Russians to task for any of their own failures to correctly present themselves to Americans. Can you imagine someone writing in the middle of World War II: "Yet however unpopular the current U.S. administration has made itself and its country among the Nazis, it would be premature to assume that further anti-American drift in Nazi public opinion is inevitable over the final two FDR years."

The late Brezhnev era is a prime example. While there was no Pew project to measure popular attitudes in the Soviet Union of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the fact that a sizeable proportion of the Soviet citizenry held the United States in high regard then can be confirmed by a number of reliable sources, including me.

LR: This is classic Russophile gibberish: I have no data, but I don't need any data, because I have my own personal observations.

Over seven months in 1978 and 1979, with Cold War I going full tilt, it was my job to exchange opinions with a cross-section of Soviet citizens -- individuals and groups, six hours a day, six days a week -- as a guide for a U.S. cultural exhibition touring three Soviet cities. If the impressions from this experience represent only "anecdotal evidence" to the strict sociologist, one basic message was unmistakably clear over thousands of conversations: The vast majority of our Soviet visitors had something favorable, or very favorable, to say about the United States.

LR: Is this fellow actually proud of the fact that he has no data? Is he really saying that we should just trust him, because he "knows" what he's talking about whilst the whole rest of the world is confused? Sure seems like it. If you continue reading, you will see that Mr. Teeter doesn't mention one single specific positive thing said by any Russian about America, nor does he name any person who allegedly made such a comment, nor does he point to any published record of any such comments, nor does he acknowledge that his activities would have been subject to strict KGB control and, hence, propaganda.

This was in the immediate wake, let's recall, of the two greatest systemic crises in U.S. postwar history -- the prolonged Vietnam debacle and the wrenching, divisive Watergate scandal. These disasters were not hidden from Soviet citizens by their government's pervasive censorship, which hid almost everything positive it could about the United States. But their dark tones did not prevail against three things: a vast reservoir of good feeling toward the United States accumulated over previous decades, and especially during the World War II alliance; the abstract nature of the self-inflicted U.S. wounds (there wasn't even a word for impeachment in Russian); and the all too concrete shortcomings of the already-decomposing Soviet system, which made almost any vision of the United States glow in comparison. Whatever else it was, U.S. society was perceived as economically advanced and politically dynamic -- while the Soviet Union was decidedly neither.

LR: Is this man really saying with a straight face that Watergate and Vietnam were major issues in the Soviet media? And even if the Soviet people's cup was overflowing with love for Americans (rather that just some propaganda designed to dupe a witless American boob like Mr. Teeter), didn't it occur to him that this love was totally meaningless because the policy of the state continued to be cold war confrontation? If Russians really thought things were so bad in Soviet times, why did they elect and reelect a proud KGB spy as their president only a few years after the USSR collapsed?

Many if not most of today's post-Soviet Russians by comparison do not see the United States as either a distinct or overwhelmingly attractive alternative to the "sovereign democracy" unfolding around them. While U.S. popular culture and economic stability are still admired, the United States itself is perceived by many -- including many of my students -- as a country off course and losing ground. And it is hard to disagree with them. That said, it is also true that Russian disillusionment with the reality of the United States is not irreversible -- or is no more irreversible, let's say, than the disillusionment of a sizeable portion of the U.S. population itself.

LR: So let's see now: The U.S. has an economy ten times larger than Russia's, far more influence around the world, and a growing population, while Russians labor for $300 per month and lose 1 million people from their population every year. But AMERICA is the country on the wrong track? And AMERICA needs to wake up and become more like Russia? What has this man been smoking and where can La Russophobe get her some? The idea that Americans need to go on bended knee to Russians and beg them to realize Americans aren't evil (presumably after making an elaborate study of just the right vodka-induced way to frame the statement so Russians can best accept it) is, flatly, absurd. It's like suggesting that a college graduate applying to Microsoft should expect Bill Gates to convince him why he should deign work for the company. The fact that Russians continue to think this way, and that hapless foreigners like Mr. Teeter continue to encourage them, goes a long way to explaining why Russia's population is declining and its average wage pennies per hour. What's more, the idea that a country which would elect a proud KGB spy as its president (twice!) and sell huge amounts of weapons to Hugo Chavez while supporting rogue terrorist regimes in Iran and Palestine would suddenly come around because of a PR campaign is naive to say the least. Quite possible, Mr. Teeter has been "in country" too long and is losing his perspective.

The U.S. image problem in Russia needs to be recognized in Washington as the indicative symptom it is. And once recognized, it needs to be understood as a problem more ours than that of our Russian observers. Such a two-stage epiphany might conceivably dawn before 2009. Afterward, steps could be taken to reverse the decline in the perception by changing the reality behind it. Only with that under way can the concept of a functional, reality-based Russian-U.S. partnership re-enter the realm of the possible -- and Cold War II perhaps be frozen in its tracks.

Now, La Russophobe asks you, dear reader: Does that not sound exactly like what the Kremlin itself would say if we asked them? Once you're done pondering that, ask yourself this: Does this "English teacher" really think he's got the answer for American politicians, and that they're going to listen to him? Is he that crazed? Or is he simply writing for domestic consumption, to enhance his personal reputation as a Russophile and cuddle up to those who pay his salary?

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