Monday, 11 February 2008

Make haste to your bunker

Presaging a caustic article anticipating Edward Lucas’ book ‘The New Cold War’ The eXile quotes an anonymous colleague who writes with the journalist at the Economist:
"Ed is known at the paper, as even he would admit, as a bit of a loon.”
I promised a fuller examination of the content of this book, but I am bound to say that it barely deserves such treatment, because it has all the hallmarks of being written by a conspiracy theorist paranoiac.

Lucas’ central thesis is that Russia is engaged in a new Cold War with expansionist ambitions and this war is being waged through the levers of investment and energy. He repeatedly urges a chilly response from the west and indicts countries who foster an understanding with Russia. Germany is particularly susceptible to his lambastes.

He extrapolates this thesis so shabbily, with so much wild speculation and so little substantive evidence that the book becomes at best sensationalist polemic. Some of his more sweeping generalisations about Russia and Russians border on the more serious charge of Russophobia.

Apart from a persistent habit of comparing Putin’s Russia to Nazi Germany and all the offensive hyperbole that implies, Lucas also has a fondness for making wild counter-factual historical assumptions. Did you know that Russia would have become a constitutional monarchy and enshrined western liberal democratic traditions had it not been for the Bolshevik Revolution?

Lucas dismisses legitimate Russian concerns tritely as if they were tactical fabrications. He contends that being surrounded by NATO countries should cause no more concern to Russia than it does to Switzerland. His justifications of the EU and NATO include the astonishingly facile and completely indefensibly stupid observation that membership of either entails banishing “ancient historical hatreds”. .

It is just one of many passages in the book that the reader may wish to read twice just actually to be sure that Lucas has indeed made such a ludicrous contention and presented it as bald, uncontested fact. Another is the presentation of anti-Russian sentiment in Crimea and the Baltic states as an invention of the Kremlin who sponsor extremists to attack Russian people and property to provide a pretext for anger and the argument that Russians who live abroad may suffer bigotry or discrimination.

This is conspiracy theory of the worst type and Lucas’ urging the west to battle-stations is as eerie as a mid-West compoundee explaining what should be done about the Illuminati. The West should coalesce and present a united front, dismissing any concerns about Iraq and other misadventures. Basically the EU needs to snub Russia and throw its lot even more unequivocally in with the US. Dissent from this view needs to be quelled lest “we” lose the ‘new Cold War’. To further this goal international organisations in which Russia is influential should either be influenced to expel that country or if this is not possible should be ignored and circumvented. Naturally this includes many of the functions of the UN.

I read this book aghast that such a work could be presented as a serious investigation of contemporary Russian politics. And it has been feted by many whose agenda it suits. But this is not a serious book, simply because there is no rigorous analysis of the thesis it proposes. That may be a symptom of a journalist writing the book, but what we have is an anti-Russian, anti-Kremlin polemic tinged with a great deal of febrile conspiracy theorising.


CW said...

I think I'll give this book a miss Chekov!
I'm currently reading "Murder in Samarkand" by former Britisj ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murry, an exposé of systematic humanrights abuses in the country. Fascinating stuff.
On a different, but tenuously related note have you seen Charlie Wilson's War? A decent enough film, but one wonders how much is fact and how much is fiction.

Chekov said...

I haven't seen it cw. I've heard mixed reports, although I would be interested in seeing it. The priority at the moment is There Will Be Blood though! I've heard good things about Murder in Samarkand. Isn't Uzbekistan enthusiastically backed by the US government due to their role in the "war against terror"?

CW said...

Yes, that's precisely why according to Murray the US/UK have turned a blind eye Karimov's appalling humna rights abuses in the former Soviet republic, as it's a key ally in the "war on terror" - dissidents and critics of the regime are routinely arrested and tortured on the (often flimsy and unjustified) pretext of being Islamic extremists as part of a suposed crackdown on muslim fanaticism.

I'm in two minds about whether or not to go and see "There will be blood" - at first glance it doesn't look like my type of film, but it has had rave reviews - my only fear is that like "No country for old men" it could prove to be highly overrated!