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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Losing Russia

George Bush was hit hard where it hurts most this week. A powerful attack upon Bush's claim to be "The Foreign Policy President" was delivered by a White House predecessor who still claims to be the father of detente. In a speech in Washington and simultaneously in a privately-circulated memorandum titled "How To Lose The Cold War", ex-President Richard Nixon accused George Bush of "failing to seize the moment to shape the history of the next half-century".


"If Yeltsin fails, the prospects for the next 50 years will turn grim. The Russian people will not turn back to communism. But a new, more dangerous despotism based on Russian nationalism will take power", Nixon forecasts. "If a new despotism prevails, everything gained in the great peaceful revolution of 1991 will be lost. War could break out in the former Soviet Union as the new despots use force to restore the 'historical border's of Russia".


Now that Mikhail Gorbachev is playing such a prominent role in retirement, Russians might consider the curious constitutional half-life which Americans grant their former presidents. Jimmy Carter, thrown out of office after a single, unhappy term is now something of a national hero. Carter organizes peace talks on Ethiopia and pushes aside armed soldiers to monitor the freedom of elections in Panama. From retirement in California, Ronald Reagan erodes the political standing of his heir by telling his friends that George Bush "doesn't seem to stand for anything".


And now Nixon, almost as disgraced by history and the Watergate scandal as his old chum Leonid Brezhnev, comes back to reclaim his mantle as the American president who began detente with the Soviet Union in the 1970s and who understands how to save Russian democracy today. The striking feature of Nixon's re-emergence, though, after the American media and its constitutional process had tried to drive a stake through his tricky heart is that he is talking sense, and president George Bush would rather not listen.


"If reform fails in Russia, we will see the tide of freedom that has been sweeping through the world begin to ebb, and dictatorship rather than democracy will be the wave of the future", Nixon argues. He goes on to dismiss the $6 billion which the United States has so far provided in food, aid and trade credits as "a pathetically inadequate response in light of the opportunities and dangers we face in the crisis in the former Soviet Union".


This is the last advice President Bush wants to hear as he battles through this year's U. S. presidential primaries against the right-wing challenge of Pat Buchanan, whose slogan is "America First". Bush is trying to avoid foreign policy and convince the American voters that his time is now devoted to hauling them out of the economic recession which increased the unemployment rate yet again to 7. 3 percent last week.


The best clue we have to the way the White House is thinking about the world after the Cold War came in a leaked Pentagon planning document this week. It called for American policy to be based on the principle that the U. S. would retain and enjoy its primacy as the only super-power. This would mean "convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests".


This document, called a "Defence Planning Guidance" which forms a basis for Pentagon planning in the 1990s, says that "a democratic partnership with Russia and the other republics would be the best possible outcome for the U. S".


But it goes on to issue one stark warning: "Should there be a re-emergence of a threat from the Soviet Union's successor state, we should plan to defend against such a threat in Eastern Europe, should there be an alliance decision to do so". The alliance in question is, of course, NATO, formed to defend the division of Europe which was established at the Yalta conference in 1945. The new U. S. policy for the alliance is to be ready to fight for the reversal of Yalta, and if necessary to advance NATO's defensive frontier from the center of Germany to the Russian border.


The Pentagon at least is thinking clearly about the grave strategic implications of a failure of Russia's democratic experiment, and so is Richard Nixon. So too, interestingly, are Bill Clinton and Paul Tsongas, the two Democrats most likely to challenge President Bush in this year's November election. All we need is for George Bush to live up to his billing as the master of foreign policy.


Martin Walker is the Washington correspondent of The Guardian