Montana Politics

Neil Livingstone: We Should Coddle Gaddafi

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I know that Neil Livingstone has a somewhat different position on torture and death squads than most Montanans, but it’s fascinating to me that he’s taking a public position that the U.S. government should coddle leaders of authoritarian regimes and even resist putting them on trial.

Livingstone told Beartooth NBC:

…the United States administration made a mistake not offering leader Muammar Gaddafi an exit strategy.
“They said if you leave the country we may put you on trial at the Hague. We’ve frozen all your assets and so on. So what incentive was there for Gaddafi to leave and as a consequence we’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of people killed in the interlude,” says Livingstone.

I’d say that Gaddafi certainly deserves to face trial for his actions as the leader of Libya. He has been charged with any number of crimes which individually warrant a trial before a war crimes tribunal and/or the International Criminal Court. It’s fascinating—but certainly not surprising—that Livingstone would join the Republican chorus criticizing President Obama for helping remove a leader they have wanted ousted for so long.

Of course, Livingstone’s analysis about Libya is suspect on more than just moral grounds. It turns out he was wrong back when the revolt started:

Well, that’s where we really need plan B now. I’m not sure that the administration or the allies have thought this through very well. Look, I don’t think he’s going to be expelled from the country, because he’s got more firepower. His army while not terribly well trained, is better trained and organized than the rebels.

And without some type of foreign intervention, he may be able to hold on there indefinitely. So we need a plan for how we deal with him in the future. I don’t think we want an angry, sullen, isolated Gadhafi in the future, who has whatever revenues that he can still put his arms around, launching acts of terrorism or striking back at the west in some way.

On another note, has anyone considered telling Mr. Livingstone he’s not running for Secretary of State or President?

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

57 Comments

  • Obama helped “remove” a leader? And here I thought Obama just wanted to save civilians, as stated in the UN resolution.

  • Some day, I’d love to know what you think NATO and US should do when governments start killing their own people.

    Was intervening in Bosnia more imperialism or the right thing to do? Did you agree with our decision to ignore the genocide in Darfur, because intervening militarily would have been imperialism?

    • someday? how about a quick response today.

      first, i don’t think NATO should even exist anymore. i think its expansion beyond the original intent of containing Soviet expansion has wrecked it’s credibility.

      second, why couldn’t NATO have just stopped once the (alleged) immediate threat to civilians was deterred? why not “just” a no-fly zone?

      third, with a no-fly zone established, there’s this concept known as “diplomacy” that could have been tried out, bringing regional influences like the African Union to the table. you know, the AU did actually want to help the situation in Libya, but the rebels wouldn’t go for it. and why should they when it was obvious NATO was willing to bomb until Gaddafi was either killed or otherwise deposed?

      and fourth, a question: do you really think it’s NATO and the US’s responsibility to respond with military air strikes in support of the local opposition every time a government starts killing it’s own people? does that mean you support a repeat performance of regime change in Syria?

      • How did the US “provoke” a humanitarian crisis? Didn’t the humanitarian crisis start when the Colonel started shooting his own people? You keep making this argument over and over again–and it’s simply not true.

        Did I miss the memo about massive deployment of NATO troops in Libya? Personally, I do support using our military to prevent a despot’s attempt to kill his own people, when we have a chance of being successful and helping the situation.

        How do you use diplomacy with someone who will not respond? Someone who will not give up power even after the point it has become obvious that he’s lost? What carrot could the US have offered? Should have given Gaddafi another couple of hundred million dollars and a resort island?

        Your last question is probably the core question. I do think the United States has a moral obligation to help prevent mass killings. I think we did the right thing to intervene in Bosnia and the wrong thing to ignore Rwanda and Darfur. Since you didn’t answer my question, is it fair to assume that your position is we should not ever intervene? Did we do the right thing in Bosnia? In Darfur?

  • Lizard – Gaddafi is a slightly different breed than most leaders who kill their own people. He has spent decades trying to buy the African Union, and has also spent some time harassing and de-stabilizing his African neighbors that opposed him. By the way, the African Union is known as one of the least effective international bodies in the world in the realm of defending human rights. Any group that tolerates the membership of Robert Mugabe is hardly a hard-hitter in the realm of human rights. The only way to get oneself suspended is to change regime (ask Madagascar) without permission. This makes it pretty clear – the purpose of the AU is to protect the current governments in Africa.

    Moreover, neither Gaddafi nor NATO ever agreed to a cease-fire. Gaddafi violated those cease-fires that were attempted. Diplomacy doesn’t mean ‘stop fighting and see what happens’. Indeed, the generally accepted first step to diplomacy is increasing the pressure on your opponent. Gaddafi had a chance to negotiate when he had reversed rebel advances at Sirte. He didn’t reach an agreement with the rebels at that point.

    When Gaddafi held Tripoli, he had one last chance to negotiate. He could have left, lived out the rest of his life in Sudan or Venezuela or somewhere. I would have agreed at that point that we should ‘coddle’ Gaddafi if it meant saving lives. I think Ben Ali and Mubarak should have been accorded the same, and the same offer ought to be extended to Saleh. But at this point, Gaddafi has nothing left to offer in negotiations.

    As to Syria – admittedly, its tempting to think the same could happen there. But the situation is different. The Syrian opposition doesn’t hold a secure base, and the Syrian military is still answering to Assad. (Unlike the LIbyan army, which was fractured and weakened by desertion.) There’s no military organization to do the fighting on the ground and no political organization to take over in the case of victory (only time will tell if Libya has the last). Thus, intervention would have little chance of removing Assad and could produce destabilizing chaos, unless the opposition really rebels and gets some power and organization. Believe it or not, people get paid to think about these things and make sure we act reasonably, or at least defensibly. Except apparently under the Bush administration.

    • I know, you think Obama’s foreign policy is reasonable and defensible, and Bush’s was not.

      What if Bush had thumbed his nose at the War Powers Act? What if Bush had Americans on an assassination hit list? What if Bush expanded covert special ops across the globe? What if Bush had surged troops in Afghanistan? What if Bush blatantly lied about a busted CIA agent in Pakistan? What if Bush was deporting illegals at a record pace, even if it meant sending Haitians back to hell? What if Bush ignored the coup in Honduras?

      Back to Libya, if you read the comment section of my post, there’s evidence of boots on the ground by British special forces in February. Now I’m not defending Gadhafi’s actions, but how would you expect an authoritarian leader to respond to foreigners possibly planning an insurrection with opposition forces?

      Provoke a looming humanitarian crisis, then use that as justification to bring in NATO to impose regime change. I don’t think that sounds reasonable, or defensible, much like most of our foreign policy after WWII.

    • Libya had no friends. Attacking Syria would possibly provoke a regional war bringing in Iran and potentially the Saudis and gulf states as well. Nobody is going to risk that.

  • My goodness, this inability to self-reflect extends far beyond Kailey! It’s a national trait!

    Gaddafi is no better or worse than any other leader, and no one was upset at his behaviors until he tried to “extort” money out of the oil companies to pay the $2 billion settlement for his alleged role in the Lockerbie incident. This notion that we should be concerned when leaders “kill their own people” is so laughable as to deserve derision, so absurd that you ought to be parodied in a cartoon, if only I could draw. We routinely and enthusiastically support regimes engaged in oppression and murder all over the globe, and only seek to unseat those who threaten “stability,” and not justice. Justice is not a concern, nor is torture or death of innocents. In fact the US is the chief sponsors of those activities.

    Charles deGaulle refused to let France be part of NATO, saying that it was merely the United States’ tool for mantaining its occupancy and dominance of Western Europe. NATO was never about Soviets, who were never so delirious that they would have attempted an invasion of Western Europe. (Those who read history might note that invasions in that area usually go the other direction, so that the Soviets were perfectly rational, though imperialistic, in wanting Eastern
    Europe as a buffer zone against potential future invasions of Russia.) If NATO was truly about Soviets, those German bases woud gave been shut down in 1991.

    If only, Mr. Pogreba, you could remove the lens of American patriotism and indoctrination, events might make more sense to you. That’s my parting shot for the day. It is 9 AM where I am at, 1 AM where you are.

    • Russia has invaded eastern / central Europe many times throughout history Mark (not to mention the entirety of the geographic area stretching roughly from Finland arcing south and than easterly through the balkans to turkey (ottomans) to persia and various ‘stans’ all the way to the pacific. As westerners we may be more familiar with Hitler and the Napoleonic wars but that does not mean that the invasions ‘usually’ went that way. The Russian empire has been as imperialistic as any.

      • Napoleaniv and hitlerian times have a little more significance, ya think? Do you think NATO came to be because of the Rus going after the Ottomans? Good night!

        Do you really think that Stalin ever thought about invading Europe under any circumstances? He even refused to put up a fight in Greece with an organized Communist movement because he had no way to mobilize troops.

        • I dont think either side really thought about invading each other in the fashion of a conventional war of occupation as in World War 2 or the Napoleonic wars. Mainly because of the advent of nuclear weapons. That era is over. What NATO did was ensure that the soviets understood that an attack on one member, particularly those weaker members like the former Ottoman Empire aka Turkey, became an attack on them all and invited nuclear intervention. NATO had a real purpose to deter the soviet union whether the threat was overblown or not and whether it also served to permanently ensconce the US military in Europe. (The threat of the soviet union was overblown all through out the cold war but it was still a threat).

          What I said is that Russia has a long history of invading its neighbors and has a much longer history of being in the imperialist game than the US. They were stretching an empire when we were a glint in the eye. Your statement about the invasions usually going into Russia was incomplete at best.

          • Oh, I agree that Russian is imperialist. It has land and resources and so cannot be conquered, which is why there was such hatred for them in the centers of power during the so-called Cold War. I know the official justification for occupation of Western Europe. The Soviets viewed it another way and saw the US as a provocateur, attempting t surround it with military bases and missiles. they had no choice but to respond in kind.

            You know about the Cuban missile crisis? do you know the whole story? The US had place missiles aimed at Russian population centers in Turkey. Russia was infuriated. Kruschev played a huge gambit, placing missiles in Cuba as a bargaining chip to gt the US to back down.

            It’s not that you are wrong about things but that you only know one side of the story, as any educated American does.

    • Just a tip from a humble debate coach, Mark. If you could approach a single conversation without relying on smug condescension, you might triple your political movement to three members. Just a thought. Try it once.

      Your history of NATO notwithstanding, let’s talk about Libya.

      Our failure to act in one country in which a leader is abusing or killing his people is no argument against intervening in another situation. Our terrible, often illegal intervention during the past 100 years are not an argument against intervening here. No one’s debating that the US has often flouted international law and basic decency in its foreign policy, but that’s not the issue here, either.

      I believe that the most powerful country in the world should act, when it’s legal, effective, and in the defense of those who need help.

      I’ll ask you the same question I asked Lizard: should we never intervene? Did you support President Clinton’s decision not to help the people of Rwanda?

      • Oh, I know about debating, coach. You can be attentive and respectful and approach your opponents arguments and disassamble them, helping him to realize the errors in his thinking.

        Or, you can hit him with a bolt and shake him up, make him mad and undermine his faulty premises. The underlying anger often results in self examination, not right that moment, but later as he is made to see new facts that he might not otherwise have seen.

        Neither works, but the latter is much more fun.

        Regarding Libya, as Johnny Carson used to say about comedy, “Buy the premise, buy the bit.”

        You are totally bought into the premise. Just as with Iraq, they are totally lying to you. Amazing now it works again and again and again.

      • Oh yeah, Rwanda: No US corporate interests were threatened, no geopolitical advantage could be gained, so no one in DC ever saw any reason to intervene. It’s not complicated.

    • “Gaddafi is no better or worse than any other leader, and no one was upset at his behaviors until he tried to “extort” money out of the oil companies to pay the $2 billion settlement for his alleged role in the Lockerbie incident.”

      Mark hasn’t paid much attention in a while. Gaddafi is much, much worse than many other leaders. I would say he’s probably much worse than Lula Da Silva, for example. I’d argue he’s also worse than Angela Merkel. Indeed, he’s worse than a great many leaders, because only a few leaders were responsible for arming genocidal militias, slaughtering rioting prisoners, and opening fire on protesters. And we’ve cared for some time; indeed, we only STOPPED caring in the last few years, when Gaddafi opened up his country to more oil exploitation. Gaddafi was closer to the west immediately before the protests than at any previous time.

      And actually, the Soviets did have designs on Europe. They tried repeatedly to assassinate Tito and force West Berlin to capitulate. Last I heard, both those are in Europe. And your history is odd, Mark. The Russians expanded into the Stan’s in 1880 and fought against the Ottomans during the same period. The invaded Poland during the partitions, and they invaded Poland, the Baltic states, and Finland, while the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was in effect, and successfully re-invaded them in 1944 and 45, fighting a decade-long war in Lithuania. All of this, of course, being far more recent than Napoleon and much of it concurrent with Hitler. So no, I don’t buy it, Mark. Russia wasn’t merely looking to protect itself. It was looking to expand its influence, as it has been since it became Russian (as opposed to Rus), which took place when they captured Kazan in 1552. But hey, keep pretending you know any history that doesn’t merely reinforce your pre-existing world view.

      Now Lizard – in fact, I wouldn’t have minded any of those things any more if they were done by Bush. I specifically supported a surge in Afghanistan while Bush was president, and increased covert operations against terrorism, as opposed to overt and clumsy ones, like invading Iraq. As for Raymond Davis, I’ve said it before. If Obama hadn’t lied, he would have been committing treason. So you should really stop bringing that up. It was better for both sides to pretend that it wasn’t a confrontation between spies. And I’m sorry, but Americans serving in foreign illegal armed forces ought to expect to be treated like foreign, hostile soldiers and officers, who we routinely and legally target. As to illegals, I’d suggest reading, you know, the news.

      Point being, nothing Obama did was pretty. That doesn’t make it unreasonable. Indeed, it shows that he has the ability to competently run a foreign policy. Foreign policy has never been pretty, but it has never been so disastrous as in the modern era, where it has been subject to pressure from groups and people who don’t understand it.

      • You, like Don, are totally bought in to the premises for the attack, the new yellow cake. It works again and again, every time. As Cheney said, they are the authors of history. They create your reality.

        Please don’t explain to me that Russia is imperialist. So are we. They behave as imperialists behave, as do we. They are our mirror image. But they were weak, and their power had to be exaggerated by the US, as we needed them to justify our own imperialism, which included occupation of Western Europe.* But up until 1990, every time we wanted to attack someone, we used The USSR as the reason.

        When they imploded, our policies, our defense spending did not change an iota. We did not un-occupy Europe. We simply changed our talking points. For a while we were fighting a war on drugs, and for a while Libya was going to be the new bad guy. Finally, the settled on terrorism as the new communism.

        We can always make the case that the (oil-rich) states we want to attack are run by madmen, new Hitlers. It’s classic agitprop technique. (Soon they will “discover” that he loved pornography and drugs. That too is classic agitprop.) But the premise never really stands up on close examination. It’s just that, since we are of the imperialist mindset, we never examine these things.

        For instance, we armed Saddam Hussein, supported him, shot down an Iranian airliner to get them to back down in the Iran/Iraq War because at that time Iran had the upper hand. When he gassed Kurds at Halabja in 1988, we increased agricultural subsidies to him and ignored the crime. No one cared until the Soviet Union imploded, at which time he became a bad guy, the new Hitler, and we attacked.

        Same with Libya. No one in DC cares about crimes or slaughter (we’re actually the best on the planet at the slaughter game). It’s just opportunism. He got uppity, tried to shake down some oil companies and gotta taken down.

        It’s not complicated if only you remove your imperialist-tinted glasses.

      • *How could you not notice that when the USSR collapsed they were exposed as a paper tiger? How could you miss that!

  • dunno what this article is supposed to prove, but the quotes you linked really dont go along with you’re line of thinking.

    Neil in those quotes is in no way making a case that he shouldnt be held accountable for his crimes, he is making the case that because he wasnt given a way out, thousands of people died that wouldnt of had he been given said way out, which is true.

    the second quote is claiming that Neil is saying Q wouldnt be defeated, when he is clearly saying without intervention (nato) Q would not be defeated, which is absolutely true. the entire reason nato started its bombing campaign is because Q’s forces had routed the rebels and there would of been a massacre in bengazhi. the idea that the rebels were a match for Q’s army without nato intervention is pretty laughable, Richard Engels interview with the rebel whos gun was made of plastic comes to mind

    you have the right to you’re own opinion for sure, but this article just makes it sound like you have very little understanding of what happened in libya, and im a supporter of natos actions in libya

    also i didnt read the comments as my problem was with the quotes you used, so if you corrected yourself in the comments i apologize

  • sorry i dont read any opposition to a trial or intervention in those quotes. sometimes governments make hard choices, and even if they are the right choices they have consequences.

    taking out Q was the right choice in my opinion, but it seems pretty silly to argue that not allowing him to flee to another country did not cost libyans thier lives, whether libyans would have wanted him to be allowed to flee is another topic.

    Q would have been allowed to flee to multiple countrys whose leaders were actually his friends whether it was italy or venezuela etc. as would mubarak and multiple other dictators

    you can disagree with Neil on politics, as we prolly disagree on a good number of things, but the man is pretty well established in the terrorism policy community, and his opinions on libya etc is sought by both republicans AND democrats, minus montana democrats in an election year =)

    i also note the lack of disagreement when it comes to the misuse of the quotes, though maybe that is still coming down the pipeline

    • I dont think we know whether he was given a reasonable opportunity to leave the country or not. Livingstone appears to make that assumption based on the fact that Libyan funds were frozen and some statements were made for public consumption about a trial at the Hague. Its kind of hard to imagine that he or his entourage have not been approached through third parties many times over the past months to see if such a deal could be worked out. In fact there were numerous instances of visits by different foreign delegations exploring such a proposition. Regardless of whether his assets were frozen or threats of an ICC arrest warrant made he could still have left the country at time of his choosing and probably lived out his life in relative comfort like Idi Amin. Livingstone relies on the false assumption that no reasonable opportunity to leave was given and that with a reasonable opportunity to leave he would have taken it.

      As to mark t., it wont let me reply to you above, what were we arguing about again?

        • I think you are having an argument with me in your own mind regarding positions I havent taken. We’ve done this before I believe and ultimately I dont think we actually disagree on much. What I have said is that the US is in fact imperialist..and so is every other nation to the extent they have the actual power to pursue their own interests. Imperialism is really just a nation pursuing what it perceives to be its own interests, doing what they can get away with, at the expense of others. The US, due to historical circumstances and geography is the pre-eminent imperial power (for now). Much of what we do and have done is morally indefensible . As I said before it would be nice to live in a world where foreign policy was completely based on justice and morality. It would take a collective guarantee for security for every nation on earth which would neccesarily involve the loss of sovereignty. Otherwise you are always going to have the next power coming down the line who is going to get theirs at the expense of others. I dont think human nature will ever allow it to be otherwise. As for me Id rather live in the imperial power then the one being exploited. Maybe thats selfish. Maybe we need some further evolution.

          We intervened in Libya because our govt and the govts of Europe saw it in our interest to do so (and by ‘our’ you can take that to mean what you choose) and more importantly they calculate that they can get away with it. There isnt anything to deter them with force or otherwise. It just so happened to coincide that in this case it may have also been the morally correct thing to do although thats debateable…but I dont think morals really had anything to do with it other then for public relations.

          • That’s pretty damned good. Where we part company is in the supposed good to come out of it. That is the American propaganda machine at work. There’s no good to come of this. The rebels will find themselves with a new Qaddafi now, and when the new one massacres them it will not make the papers in the US, and the world will not care.

  • Livingston has a point… you push somebody into a corner do you really expect them to do anything but fight for their life? The prospect of going from autocratic leader to dead doesn’t give Gaddafi a choice but to fight like hell.

    I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be held accountable for the atrocities that he has committed, but tactically there might have been a different way in which the transition could have been handled that would have limited the amount of bloodshed.

  • Mark, Mark, Mark. The presence of missiles in Turkey (Jupiters, right?), and their subsequent removal after the crisis, is an integral part of any study of the Cuban missile crisis, and any student of international relations has studied that crisis a half dozen times from different perspectives.

    The actions of NATO during the cold war to contain the USSR have a strategic and a moral component. First, the strategic element – within a few years of the Russian Revolution, it was clear that Lenin;s anti-imperial rhetoric was a sham. He quickly re-built or tried to rebuild most of the Russian Empire – Poland, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus. Stalin completed that action, first directly in the Baltic Republics, then indirectly by creating the satellite nations. The idea that they were merely to form a buffer zone, which you seem to have bought hook, line, and sinker, is preposterous. What was Bulgaria shielding the Soviet Union from? The dreaded Greek scourge? And Mongolia?

    Indeed, at the end of WWII, the Great Game originally between Britain and Russia had started again, only with the US stepping in for the Brits. Russia’s reasonable aims remained the same – to gain control of the Balkans and the Dardanelles, and expand their influence freely into Central Asia and China. These goals have been considered unacceptable since the Crimean War, but now a punitive invasion is impracticable and impossible. So, you link those powers that can oppose Russia – Germany, the US, the UK – with those countries that cannot, and that are likely targets of Russian expansion, namely Greece and Turkey. Mutual defense means that Russia can’t act towards Turkey or the Balkans, which they want to do, without acting toward Western Europe, which you successfully note they don’t want to do. In East and Central Asia, we had no such plan, which is why these were much bloodier fronts in the cold war.

    The moral dimension is simple. Would you rather lie in Japan,, South Korea, or Western Europe, occupied by the US, or in the Communist Bloc? Hundreds of thousands of Germans gave that answer when it was possible (hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died trying to). Simple moral dimension. Some actions taken to win the cold war were foolish, or short sighted, or selfish. Others, however, were ugly, but deciding their morality ends up being determined depending where you lie on the Kant-Machiavelli continuum.

    Back to Libya – that this is strategically good move is no longer really in doubt. Gaddafi was cooperative, but he wasn’t dependent on us. Replacing him with a rebel council friendly to the US and able to provide Europe with oil, and likely to be friendly with Tunisia and Egypt and unfriendly towards Sudan, all without taking casualties or isolating ourselves from ourr allies, its clearly a good move. Morally, we’ll have to see how it works out for the Libyans, but it seems likely that the people of the region will be better as a result of the action than the result of inaction would have been.

    • I see you know the future in addition to the past. We don’t disagree much on the past, but I doubt the future in store for the Libyan rebels is as rosy as you foresee. Rebel council? You really think that the rebels will have a voice? That sounds suspiciously like someone whwl thinks that the US cares about democracy, and that is the imperial coke bottle lens at work. Your history only need go back as far as Iraq, 2003 forward, to see what happens to rebels. They are slaughtered en masse, and the western media takes no note, in fact ridicules anyone who does take note.

      Regarding the past, our difference is that you have the imperialist mindset, and so believe that in the end people are better off with the US that it’s enemies. I try to avoid that, keep my distance, as I have seen the unimaginable horror and violence and death that the good guys bring to bear. The US is incredibly hated in the Mideast, and so cannot allow rebel councils a voice, anywhere.

      Russia had little influence in China. There was barely an alliance there. There were no Russianss in Vietnam, say the Pentagon Papers. And again, if you cannot look at the events of the last 20 years and understand what the CIA knew in the mid-70’s, that the USSR was a paper tiger, then you do not have a grasp of history. Both the US and USSR used their supposed hatred of one another to advance their own agenda within their own sphere of influence, carefully avoiding actual confrontation, though CMC damn near brought it about. Lenin and Stalin merely became the new czars, as the Bolshviks had no way of holding power once they got it. Russia was a military dictatorship before and after the revolution. Russia inflicted the fatal blow on the Nazis. The Alllies, we are now learning, had no plans for a European land invasion prior to Stalingrad. They only then took advantage. Russia won the European War. Stalin had boots on the ground in Eastern Europe and so could not be dislodged, but had no greater plans, as he was a realist and knew the West was too strong to engage.

      I try to view history without an imperialist lens, granting superior morals to no one and not imagining that dead people are any less dead under either system. It is true that life in the West is better than life in the east, but that was true in 1917 as well. Nothing changed, and dead is dead, massacre is massacre, bombs are bombs, and neither eastern communism nor western consumerism have much to offer on the moral front. American freedom is an illusion, as we have no voice in government and cannot change policy. Our Mullahs happen to be on Wall Street. That’s all that is different in terms of government..

      • “It is true that life in the West is better than life in the east, but that was true in 1917 as well.”

        I used to believe this as well; I used to cite it repeatedly as a defense of socialism. And it is true, technically. But take Berlin, for example. Prior to 1917 I know of no difference between east and west Berlin; indeed, in many ways life in Pomerania and Prussia was much more advanced than in the south of France or Italy. Once those areas fell under Communist control, quality of life deteriorated, while previously undeveloped regions of Europe modernized quickly.

        There are many explanations for why life in the East has been generally worse. Russians will often blame it on the Mongols, ultimately. The point is that, for some time, Russia has been the most miserable, stratified, autocratic society in Europe. It’s observable – compare those parts of Poland and Ukraine that were administered by Russia to those administered by Austria or Germany. The onset of Communism in Russia, as you noted, changed little, though in the short term it vastly increased the bloodshed. The spread of Russian influence deeper into central Europe and the Balkans merely expanded the sphere of backwardness and autocracy.

        But now Mark, you’re being a little silly. You’re assuming that, while everything else stayed the same in Russia’s government after the revolution, their desire for global influence changed, and thus they had no intention of expanding, especially towards the Dardanelles, Balkans, and the Middle East.

        Moreover, you make the assumption that because NATO eventually came to be, it was inevitable that the allies would remain such. The allies in WWI quickly fell apart after the hostilities were over and lost their solidarity, the Western allies abandoning Czechoslovakia and Italy even switching sides. NATO prevented that, as well as extending that protection to the areas where the USSR was likely to spread its influence. Again, preventing that spread was not motivated by moral concerns, but it had that effect.

  • Mark – I don’t have a lot of time here, so I’ll be simple.

    You note that very little changed with the revolution. Autocracy continued, Eastern Europe stayed poorer than Western Europe, and Russia remained an imperialist power. It is demonstrable that areas that were previously comparable, like East and West Germany, diverged during this period in quality of life. Do you think maybe that had to do with the autocracy and economic inefficiency associated with being in the Russian sphere of influence, during the Cold War or before? Thus, one has to assume that resisting and reversing the spread of the influence would have the net effect of improving the lives of people in those countries, which indeed it has.

    As to the strategic element, you continue to assert a preposterous position that somehow the Russians stopped looking to expand. This is demonstrably untrue because they continued to expand their influence – look at their efforts in Yugoslavia and West Berlin. An invasion of Western Europe was indeed unlikely, which Western Europe was linked with Greece and Turkey, two more vulnerable countries to invasion or interference. You argue that the West was too strong to engage. Another fallacy, on two levels. For one, you note that the Soviet Union was the driving force behind defeating Nazi Germany. At the end of the war they were the most formidable military in the world, and they kept pace with the US for decades after. Secondly, there is no reason to think of ‘the West’ without the existence of NATO. “The Allies” that beat Germany in WWI would have been too strong to engage again, except that their alliance drifted and failed to present a unified front with coherent plans of action in case of German aggression, precisely the shortcomings NATO intended to avoid.

    • Again, we do not argue that Russia is imperialist. They have resources and so cannot be conquered. But due to a number of factors they were forced to contract. They had control of the ‘stans and Eastern Europe and troops and weapons in all. They cast a shadow On Iraq, Iran and Central Asia. They had to withdraw. They collapsed. Then came the vacuum, which is incredibly dangerous. In short order we had a military attack on Iraq and capital penetration of Eastern Europe, with Serbia a holdout. We bombed them in 1999.

      The result is war in Iraq and AfPak, attack threats on Iran, and appropriate responses to all of the Arab Spring uprisings, Libya front and center (oil). That is the present.

      The past was Stalingrad, war of attrition. It was debilitating to the Russians, and devastating to the Germans. Much of what we call the Holocaust was German soldiers attacking Jewish villages for food and clothing, trying to return home in the Russian winter.

      Stalin had troops in Eastern Europe, and the US was not capable of launching yet another conflict, so it was conceded to him. It was not a decision. It was reality. But old Joe did not have a functioning army. He had remnants. Stalingrad was costly. He had troops, but no machinery. His cannons were still horse-drawn. When Greece was in rebellion after the war, with a vibrant communist movement, he hung them out to dry. No choice.

      Russia recovered quickly and during the 50’s seemed real enough. But via the McCarthy hearings and “duck and cover” and “fallout shelters”, fear became part of American culture. COMMUNISM was the enemy. But it was a defective authoritarian system, and imploded. It could not be sustained.

      American propaganda made the Soviets into a credible threat. They never were, but who cares. Fear was the objective and it worked. It worked on me in total. I lived through duck and cover and fallout shelters and Sputnik. The object was to instill fear. It worked. When it fell, the US did not miss a beat. Now it is “terrorism.” Same game. Nothing has changed. Without enemies, we are nothing.

  • Mark – the point is, Russia was imperialist and powerful. Certainly, neither side had the will to start another war, but Russia had the ability to, as you say, cast a long shadow. Moreover, if you read a history of Soviet performance in WWII, you’ll note that by 1945 they had a better understanding of combined-arms strategy and more experience using modern artillery and armor. As for not having machinery, the Soviets had more tanks and artillery than the rest of the allies combined, and a mobilized industrial capacity to keep them supplied and reinforced. It was not inevitable that they would collapse, or that we would win the Cold War. It would have been easy for the Western allies, paralyzed by fear of another war, to again fail to present a united front against a rival imperial power.

    And there was no guarantee that the system would implode. China keeps humming along, altering their system with the changing times but never abandoning it. Cuba has managed to hold on even without its biggest patron. North Korea seems always on the brink of collapse.

    Moreover, where they spread their influence, there was little opportunity for individual freedoms or an increased quality of life to match the West. Thus, the only moral option was to oppose their expansion and try to cause them to contract. Now, Suharto and Pinochet did nothing to aid that process, and I’m not going to argue that everything done during the Cold War was justified by the ends, but basic actions like creating NATO and pressuring the USSR when it attempted to expand were definitely justified.

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  • Hiya! Quick question that’s entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when viewing from my iphone. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this issue. If you have any suggestions, please share. Many thanks!

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