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September 14, 2004
Russia, Chechnya, and the Neocons
Since this is a political post, I am making it an extended entry.
The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya has been making headlines everywhere and is being cited in news articles and essays around the world. What's especially interesting is their membership list. On it are such prominent neoconservatives as Elliott Abrams, Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, Robert Kagan, Max Kampelman, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, Richard Perle, Norman Podhoretz, Gary Schmitt, and James Woolsey. As are Reaganite realists such as Kenneth Adelman, Alexander Haig, Robert Lieber, Richard Pipes, and Caspar Weinberger. Also included is a hawkish group of Democratic realists, in this case Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Dujarric, Charles Fairbanks, and William Odom.
The question is, why are these individuals so sympathetic to the "Chechen" (I'll explain the quotation marks later) cause? I ask this because many of the above individuals I would consider to be political allies of myself. All believe in an assertive foreign policy and American global hegemony. Brzezinski, in particular, is absolutely brilliant, and William Odom's new book (with Robert Dujarric), America's Inadvertent Empire, in by far the best and most insightful book on American foreign policy written this year. In order to explain this odd phenomenon, lets have a short history lesson first.
According to legend, Russia was founded in the Kievan Rus (in modern day Ukraine) in the ninth century by a Viking named Oleg. At the time of its founding, Russia was approximately 1/3 of 1% of its present size. Needless to say, there is a quite a history of Russian expansionism. In 1696, Peter I (the Great) decided that Russia's lack of defensible borders demanded immediate attention. His solution? Expand Russia to areas with mountainous regions that can be more easily defended and acquire warm water ports in order to be able to project naval power throughout the year. To quote Robert D. Kaplan, a person whose writings have greatly influenced my worldview:
The Russiansí drive southeastward, to conquer the Turkic peoples and to acquire warm water ports along the Indian Ocean, gathered momentum with Peter the Greatís conquest of the Sea of Azov from the Ottoman Turks. Over the next century, Russian fur trappers and traders built forts across southern Siberia, arcing down into Turkestan. In the nineteenth century, following its recovery from Napoleonís invasion, Russia began subduing one Turkic khanate after another.
In most cases, these khanates were Muslim. However, their rulers were cruel and exacted extremely high taxes from them. Many were happy to be liberated.
By the 19th century, the Russian empire had expanded to "7000 miles from east to west and 3000 from north to south." With over 100 different cultures, this empire was highly multicultural and held together by a highly centralized, and overly bureaucratic, state. Nicholas I created institutes to study all of these cultures and to develop methods with which to ensure cohesiveness of the empire. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where our modern day troubles in Chechnya begin...
To skip ahead a few years, Lenin, brought back into Russia with the help of the Germans, launched the Bolshevik Revolution, overthrowing the tsar and signing a peace treaty with Germany, ceding Ukraine to them. A wise decision on Lenin's part, Germany soon lost the war and Ukraine became an independent republic. Lenin, in order to bolster support for his revolution, declared the right of self-determination of all cultures within the Russian empire.
Muslims of Russia, Tartars of the Volga and the Crimea, Kirghiz, Kazakhs and Sarts of Siberia and Turkistan, Turks and Tartars of Transcaucasia, Chechens and Mountaineers of the Caucasus, and all those whose Mosques and Oratories have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled under foot by the Tsars and oppressors of Russia. Your beliefs and usages, your national and cultural institutions, are henceforth free and inviolate. Organize your life in complete freedom. You have the right. Know that your rights, like those of all the peoples of Russia, are under the powerful safeguard of the revolution and its organs, the Soviet of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants.
Of course, Lenin didn't mean a single thing he said. As Russia went deep into a civil war between pro-Tsarist forces and the Bolsheviks, the largest of these cultures split from the empire and formed their own independent republics. On December 28, 1920, Bolshevik forces conquered Ukraine, "the breadbasket of Russia," providing them with enough supplies to quickly finish off the remaining Tsarist forces, not to mention undertaking what became, in the words of Brian Crozier, "the largest imperial expansion in world history," seizing all of the breakway republics in Central Asia and more, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Instead of changing Tsarist foreign policy, they continued it, only more aggressively.
Technically, these "Soviet republics" were autonomous, however, in reality they were under the control of those very Russians who claimed to be their saviors. While exerting political control over these republics, the Soviets attempted to demonstrate that these republics still had cultural independence, and formed nationality policies. In what appears to be a continuation of the ethnographers from the Russian Empire, the Community Party "encouraged nationalist ideas by promoting ethnicity in the state apparatus -- every republic had its own institutes for the study of national language and culture -- but denied regions the fight to anything more than symbolic expressions of that nationalism."
"After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, nationalistic rhetoric by both central and regional political leaders flowered." When the Soviet Union fell, most of the large republics declared independence, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia (Belarus), Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia (Kyrgyzstan), Latvia, Lithuania, Moldovia (Moldova), Russia, Tadzhikistan (Tajikistan), Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. What occurred "in the postimperial new orders, ethnic, or more precisely, ethnicized or ethnically oriented elites always came to power. They began actively to implement an apartheid policy in ethnic relations." The nationality policies enforced by the Soviet Union ensured that "all historic events are ethnicized; in this way, they are mythologized and subjected to total mystification and falsification." By enacting these cultural policies and breeding nationalism while simultaneously suppressing the political outgrowths of this newfound nationalism, the Soviet Union sealed its fate.
Many republics, however, were unable to secede from Russia. In 1991, Dzhokar Dudayev declared Chechnyaís independence. Chechnya had been subjected to the same problems that other nationalities had been under the Soviet Union. Nationalist ideas had been encouraged, yet political control still rested in the hands of the Soviets. "Dzhokar Dudayev's glorification of an independent Chechnya and a mythologized native 'warrior tradition' drew on this rhetoric and on decades of Soviet nationalities policy." In 1994, after negotiations with Dudayev had failed, the Russians invaded Chechnya in what appears to be again, a continuation of Tsarist and Soviet imperialism. Dudayev rallied the Chechens behind the belief "that Chechnya would reclaim glorious traditions once free of Russia's yoke" and "promised economic miracles through independence, and exaggerated the amount of oil in Chechnya." The Russians underestimated the Chechens and considered them nothing but a few "bandits" and "criminals" who would be defeated in a "small victorious war." It was anything but. In August 1996, after nearly two years of brutal urban and guerrilla warfare, the Russians negotiated a peace settlement with Aslan Maskhadov, the commander of the Chechen forces.
Between 1997 and 1999, Chechnya had a generally high level of national autonomy, however, what happened between these years is horrifying. The brutality of the Russian invasion, due mainly to the fact that most of the Russian troops were badly trained and had little experience against nationalist guerrillas, left Chechnya in ruins and its people demoralized. With Dudayev dead, the Chechens needed new leaders and motivations in order to rebuild their country. They felt that Dudayevís ultra-nationalism had failed them, and instead of bringing them freedom and independence, it brought them ruin. A political vacuum existed, waiting to be exploited.
The Chechens, who had been primarily secular nationalists prior to 1997, began to look to outside influences for hope. One part of their national identity whose study had been encouraged by the Soviets was their Muslim roots. In the mid 1990s, a new leader appeared, Ibn Khattab, and he was offering them the solution to all their problems. Khattab appears to have single-handedly turned Dudayev from a patriotic nationalist into an Islamic fundamentalist. With over $25 million from Islamic charities, Saudi Arabia, and Osama bin Laden, Khattab (whose real name was Salim Suwaylin) brought in fighters from all across the Islamic world who saw in Chechnya the kind of instability necessary for the recruitment and creation of a jihadist state. Entire regions of Chechnya came under the control of Shar'ia radical Islamic law, in particular the village of Karamakhi, where the jihadists planned and launched attacks against neighboring Dagestan in August 1999. In the same month, numerous apartment complexes were bombed in Russia, and authorities quickly laid blame on the Chechens. In October 1999, 80,000 Russian troops were deployed to Chechnya, and have been there since.
What happened in Chechnya is simple. Decades of political oppression coupled with the encouragement of nationalism led to violent secession from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Decades of Russian imperialism were passed on to the democratically elected Russian government, who saw it as the first way to solve the problem in Chechnya. After a brutal invasion that left the country ruined, due to insufficient training of the Russian troops, a political vacuum was left empty. Foreigners exploited the failed state in order to form a jihadist state intent on making it a base of a coming global Islamic revolution. In response, the Russians again invaded Chechnya, thus proving what the Islamic radicals had said all along about Russia, further putting the Chechens within their fundamentalist death grip. Chechnya is now effectively a base of Islamic radicalism, unstable, and the Chechen people, who feel even more doomed than before, are resorting more and more to terrorism.
Is there a solution to the problems in Chechnya? In Chechnya "Russian troops make a good deal of money . . . [by] selling weapons to the rebels." "Rebel commanders [have] divided up the regionís oil wells among themselves . . . [and] soldiers and police extort a cut from the [illegal] refiners in return for turning a blind eye." "The alternative to home-brewing petrol is to become a rebel fighter. There are bounties to be had for killing Russian troops and blowing up their vehicles." Most of this money comes from Islamic charities and terrorist organizations. If the Russian troops pull out, there will be instability and the province will fall even more under the control of jihadists. If the Russian troops stay, the cycle of violence will continue and corruption will continue. There doesnít seem to be a solution to the Chechen problem.
However, Russia should learn from this. Russia needs to understand the causes of these nationalist uprisings and they need to enact radical military reform. The military should be professionalized, corruption rooted out, troop strength should be cut, and training should focus on dealing with the types of asymmetric warfare that terrorists specialize in without causing great damage to the civilian population and infrastructure. If another Chechnya should happen in Russia, the Russians should be able to deal with the problem without a brutal invasion that only makes the problem worse. Until then, the legacies of failed policies from decades and centuries past will continue to haunt Russia, and the world.
Now, I do not want to sound as if I am an apologist for the "Chechen" cause; I am not. The point here is that, originally, Chechen separatism was a secular movement that has radically changed over the years and has since become an Islamist movement. This is no longer simply about Chechen separatism; it's about a global war on Islamism. This is extraordinarily similar to the problems the Middle East regarding the Palestinians. Originally, the PLO and the nationalist movement there was leftish and secular, however, it has since been Islamicized. Why can't the ACPC see the similarities between the two? Why do they blame Russia first?
The problem here is that many of the newspapers and commentators on the issue act as if Chechen separatism has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. Regardless of the fact that perhaps as many as 1/3 of the terrorists in Beslan were of Arab origin, and despite the fact that we have captured Chechen operatives in both Afghanistan and Iraq (see The Interrogators), they still act as if this is the same movement that was fighting in 1994.
Fact is, it isn't. We are now fighting an international war against the forces of jihad, and times have changed. For some reason, the neoconservatives and the hawkish realists who are members of ACPC don't understand this. Why is this? I believe it's because these individuals are still in a Cold War mentality, and many have ditched their anti-Communism and inserted some odd form of anti-Russianism. I can understand the reasons behind Richard Pipes' and Zbig Brzezinski's anti-Russianism: they're both Polish, which gives them a perfectly legitimate reason for harboring that mentality. However, I don't understand what happened to all of the rest.
Just this morning Robert Kagan wrote an anti-Putin screed in the Washington Post. From reading it, it's as if he doesn't understand that the Cold War is over. It's people like him that are preventing the United States from getting closer to Russia and developing a mutually beneficial relationship. He completely ignores all the good Putin has done for Russia. At first, I thought that Kagan was simply a democratic extremist, who is more interested in promoting democracy, even when it's not in the national interest. That doesn't seem to be the case, though, especially since I don't see him condemning the centralization of power taking place in Iraq. It appears that he is simply anti-Russian.
Promoting democracy is an honorable and noble goal. However, as Fareed Zakaria has recently pointed out, in order for a country to be a successful democracy, certain conditions must be met. Failure to meet those conditions could make the country worse off than it already was.
For all the skeptics out there, go to the website of the Kavkaz Center in Chechnya. It's like Jihad Central.
Many have compared Putin to Pinochet. They say that Putin wants to create an authoritarian-capitalist state. This is a rather bad analogy. Is Putin creating an authoritarian state? Perhaps. But Pinochet DID create an authoritarian-capitalist state and, since we had a common enemy, we worked together. In the end, Chile turned out alright, didn't it? Based on per capita GDP, it's only the third most prosperous country in the Western Hemisphere, behind the US and Canada, and it is a very stable democratic state with a center-left party currently in power. The neoconservatives tolerated him, why can't they tolerate Putin? Anti-Russianism.
To put it even more simply. Russia wields an enormous and disproportionate amount of influence in world affairs. If you begin to move against Russia now, Russia may well end our war on terrorism. America, Russia, Israel, China... we're all in this together. Working together now means that we have more trust in the future to make a better world, which will be a heck of a lot simpler if we already have close relationships militarily. So, your choices are clear: continue the war on terrorism and allow Putin to make Russia slightly less democratic or criticize Russia and end the war on terrorism.
To the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya: GIVE RUSSIA A CHANCE.
This is long, I know. Much of it is adapted from an essay that I wrote about a year ago. I felt what I said in it was immediately applicable to the current situation in Russia.
When I wrote it, I tried to be as objective as possible. At times it may even appear that this essay is sympathetic to the Chechens. I will admit, I did sympathize with them when they first attempted to secede, however, I have since withdrawn my support due to the level of Islamicization that has taken place since 1997. I will also admit, I am a bit of a Russophile.
A small error: in the third paragraph, I stated, "In 1696, Peter I (the Great) decided that Russia's small size and lack of defensible borders demanded immediate attention." It has been raised by Razib that Russia had already reached the Sea of Okhotsk by this time. He is correct, and I have revised the problematic paragraph to this, "In 1696, Peter I (the Great) decided that Russia's lack of defensible borders demanded immediate attention." That's what happens when you lose your train of thought.
Razib also brought up an interesting tidbit about the worldview of Jeane Kirkpatrick. She wrote a book in 1982 titled Dictatorships and Double Standards. In this book, she advocated alliances with right-wing authoritarian dictatorships in the global struggle against Communism.
To quote myself, she believed that "there was a fundamental difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism, and that the latter was far worse than the former. Since totalitarianism was always the ultimate result of Communist revolutions, a right-wing authoritarian regime would be a much lesser evil than a left-wing totalitarian regime. While a pro-US democracy may well be desirable, many of the states that Communist movements took root in were democracies, and she stated that the point of the war is to defeat Communism. Therefore, overthrowing a democratic regime that had brought Communists to power and installing a right-wing authoritarian was sometimes necessary to prevent the Communists from solidifying their power and becoming an anti-American pawn of the Soviet Union."
Thus, that's how we ended up supporting such individuals as Augusto Pinochet.