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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Lesson in Russian History for Clinton

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The war in Afghanistan was not the main reason the Soviet Union collapsed. Nevertheless, it bankrupted the Soviet state and pointed out the moral blight, skewed priorities and irrelevance of the Communist gerontocracy.

The United States is a vibrant society with a diversified and resilient economy. But it currently stands on the brink of considerable social and economic upheaval, and the Iraq war reveals the fault lines within the world's only superpower. It is a nation living beyond its means by exploiting the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency. The war is costing some $3 billion per week -- all of it borrowed from more productive nations.

The United States is the leader of the free world, which the rest of the world refuses to follow. Even the pathetic "coalition of the willing," a bunch of mostly third-tier nations Washington assembled to back it in Iraq, has crumbled.

Iraq occupies a far more important place in the political debate in the United States than Afghanistan ever did in the Soviet Union. It is divisive, and frustrations on both sides have been exacerbated by the fact that no victory, however defined, can be achieved. Nor can U.S. forces leave without plunging a strategic, oil-rich region into chaos.

U.S. overconsumption and unilateralism predated President George W. Bush. But it was Bush who turned federal fiscal surpluses into deficits -- literally, with a stroke of a pen -- by granting his disastrous tax cuts. He plunged the United States into the irrelevant global war on terror, started the unnecessary and wasteful war in Iraq and created the moral climate in which Americans stand accused of torture, war crimes and atrocities.

Bush has been called the worst president in U.S. history. But now he has devised a clever plan to rescue his legacy. His troop surge in Iraq is designed to create a sense of stability and even progress. His economic policy, aided and abetted by the U.S. Federal Reserve, has been to stretch the liquidity bubble for another year or so. He could then credibly claim that he left office with Iraq on the mend and the economy booming and that his successors dropped the ball.

The next occupant of the White House will have to fight back in self-defense. He -- or most probably she (meaning Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is currently the most credible candidate) -- should study recent Russian history. Gorbachev withdrew troops from Afghanistan, but he never put those responsible for the war on trial. Boris Yeltsin ended communism and split the Soviet empire, but he avoided pushing for de-Stalinization. Even a symbolic condemnation of communism by Russian courts would have allowed the country to turn over a new page and rejoin the community of nations in much the same way West Germany did after World War II.

As a result, in post-Soviet Russia, Brezhnev's reputation is being revived, Stalin is widely venerated and former KGB officers rule the Kremlin. Gorbachev and Yeltsin, meanwhile, are reviled for "destroying a great country."

If Clinton doesn't want to share their fate -- which in the U.S. context would mean a failed one-term presidency -- she would need to start de-Bushification. Her first act in office should be to put Bush and his entourage on trial.

When I recently suggested this to an audience of New York lawyers, the room exploded with laughter. It would be unconstitutional, they said, and also so un-American, to be stuck in the past.

On the contrary, putting blame where it belongs would be a step toward the future. It would, first of all, extract the next president's reputation from the rubble of failed policies. More important, a guilty verdict passed on the Bush administration by an impartial and independent U.S. court might put an end to unilateralism and restore the United States' rightful place in the community of nations. Both would benefit.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, is a New York-based economist.