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Edward Lucas' Cold War Hustle

11.26.2007 | MEDIA

"Ed is known at the paper, as even he would admit, as a bit of a loon." -- Anonymous Economist Correspondent
If you're reading this from the apparent safety of your Western country, then the Economist's Edward Lucas has bad news for you: You are not safe.

Vladimir Putin is on the verge of conquering and enslaving you. Your nation is under attack by the full might of Russia's petro-fascism, and what's worse, the game is just about up. We're in Saigon, 1975, and we don't have any room for retreat when the barbarians come crashing through the gates.

The fact that you are unaware of your impending doom is, according to Lucas, the scariest thing of all, part of Putin's brilliantly evil stealth strategy -- part Sun Tzu, part Wermacht. But there's hope: if you buy Edward Lucas' new book, The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West, you might be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The promo for the book makes no bones about it: if you read it, you'll discover "Why we are perilously close to defeat -- and how we can still win."

If you value your freedom, then you know what you have to do.

There's only one problem. Edward Lucas' book won't be released until next February. That's four months from now. Can the West hold on that long? Should we consider waterboarding him for the info?

According to Lucas' harrowing narrative -- laid out in different degrees in the Times of London, the Economist, his personal blog, and, coming soon, his book -- Cold War II began alternatively either with last year's unsolved murder of Alexander Litvinenko or with the 2003 arrest of oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and it will be settled in the battle over the tiny Caucasian state of Georgia. There is more to it than that, of course, but those are the marketing bookends.

For Lucas and the New Cold Warriors, the crimes committed by a resurgent Russia -- real and imagined -- warrant a return to policies and attitudes reminiscent of the most expensive and dangerous conflict in world history; a conflict we all survived with a lot more luck than most of us realize, luck that's unlikely to be repeated in the upcoming remake. At a time when the world needs urgently to start reversing the nuclear trend-lines, the New Cold Warriors want a return to the confrontation that gave us the thousands of thermonuclear weapons now sitting so patiently on hair-triggers.

Since the first Cold War is supposed to be a thankfully closed book, convincing people to get a new one going is a tricky sell. Lucas' solution is to borrow the neo-Churchill trick used by Washington's neocons. As he explained in an Oct. 13, 2006, Times op-ed, Georgia is more than just the New Cold War's Berlin -- it is also its Munich. Translated into Team America's multiplication table, that means that the New Cold War = the Old Cold War x World War II. Scared yet?

"Names like Abkhazia [Georgia] may sound unfamiliar, but the Sudetenland, and before that Sarajevo, once sounded preposterously far away and unimportant to Western ears," explains Lucas, invoking two world wars and threatening a third in a single idiotic sentence.

Recent events -- combined with his less Russophobic foreign editor at the Economist -- have forced Lucas to back off the idea that the Kremlin is solely to blame for unrest in Georgia. But it took the spectacular explosion of the Saakashvilii good-boy myth for Lucas to stop hyping the massive stakes of defending his pro-NATO government. As Lucas explained in his apocalyptic Times op-ed:

Small defeats now mean bigger ones later. Russia's petrocrats are determined to stem and reverse their country's geopolitical retreat. If they can derail Mr Saakashvili it sends a powerful signal elsewhere. If Georgia falls, then others will be next. Russia's hold over Ukraine will strengthen. Moldova, the weakest country in Europe, will buckle too. Then the shadow will stretch over the poorly governed and demoralised ex-communists of Central Europe and the Baltics. That will bring Russian neo-imperialism to our front door.
Never mind that most of those "poorly governed and demoralized ex-communists" -- way to dis all your sources, Ed! -- are now full members of NATO. Like Lyndon Johnson's teetering dominoes of Asia, Eastern Europe is on the verge of collapse, with Tbilisi the new Saigon (and Munich and Berlin and Sarajevo). Only in Lucas' fevered Anglican mind, it's a creeping shadow of "neo-imperialism" that we have to fear (see sidebar), not communist dictatorship preceded by rolling waves of T-54 tanks.

Lucas' shtick is such an exaggerated mess, fueled by such a diseased urge to increase the biggest danger our planet faces -- that would be global thermonuclear holocaust, not the loss of Moldova as a NATO candidate country -- that it's hard not to wonder if Edward Lucas is, in fact, losing in mind. A Strangelovean hack for Strangelovean times. A former Economist colleague of Lucas' once confided to me, "Ed is known at the paper, as even he would admit, as a bit of a loon." And what's a Cold War without loons running around urging stiffer resolves and ever expanding defense budgets?

Perhaps, but there is another, more obvious explanation for Lucas' Cold War hysteria. After all, business is business. As mentioned above, early next year Bloomsbury will release The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West. The exact release date is February 4, the anniversary of the opening of the Yalta conference, which many historians consider the start of the first Cold War.

Since there's no Irvine Welsh-style black market for galley proofs of Lucas' book, all we have to hold us over until publication is the Amazon synopsis. Here is the original story of Lucas' The New Cold War (not to be confused with Mark Mackinnon's The New Cold War, published by Random House in April) compressed into 270 words:

In the 1990s, Russia was the sick man of Europe, but the rise to power of former KGB officer Vladimir Putin in 1999 coincided with a huge hike in world oil and gas prices, and after Yeltsin's downfall Putin set about re-establishing Russian autocracy. Now with its massive gas and oil reserves Russia has not only paid off its debts but amassed huge cash reserves which it is investing in easily accessible European businesses. Putin's Russia is hostile to open debate. Critics inside Russia such as the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and opponents abroad such as the defector Alexander Litvinenko, a British subject, have been assassinated. Russia has threatened to target its nuclear missiles on America's allies in eastern Europe. It has resumed the military bullying of its neighbours, including repeated airspace violations; its generals play war games involving the recapture of the Baltic states. These are familiar tactics, but a whole new breed of Kremlin dirty tricks is still more sinister. The cyber-attacks on Estonia in May 2007 showed Russia was ready to wipe a country off the online map. Russia is stitching up Europe's gas market, giving it huge influence both within and on Europe. Many people, out of naivete or greed, deny the existence of the problem. Russia has so far sidelined America, its most formidable opponent in the last cold war: America needs Russia co-operation on North Korea, Iran and the Middle East, leaving the way clear for the Kremlin. "The New Cold War" explains both the Kremlin's tactics and the West's weaknesses. Why we are perilously close to defeat and -- and how we can still win.
So there you have it. A new Cold War is on, one that the West did not start and is "perilously close" to losing. Things haven't been this bad since Grenada's Marxists were just a two-day dinghy-ride to Miami Beach. Except this time it isn't just weak liberal governments and fifth columns of peace activists and pinko professors that have allowed the West to fall behind the Russians. This time around, greedy global capitalists are partially to blame. In a strange ideological reversal, the otherwise free-trade loving Lucas appears very concerned about Russia's penetration of "easily accessible European businesses" -- those naughty, vulnerable little sluts.

Even if you give Lucas all of the unknowns he takes for granted as knowns -- the unsolved murders of prominent Putin critics, the cyber-attacks, an alleged stray bomb landing undetonated in a Georgia haystack -- and even if you ignore all of the crucial omissions -- the provocations of open-ended missile defense and unfettered NATO expansion; America's "preventative war" doctrine in theory and practice; the fact that geology, not politics or conquest, has made Russia an energy giant with corresponding regional influence -- even if you give Lucas everything he's asking for in his case, he and his new Cold Warriors still have the burden of explaining why this rather uninspiring list of evil infractions justifies a return to the costliest and most dangerous conflict in human history. Lucas provided one answer in an interview with a Latvian blogger, when asked why he writes columns for the trashy rightwing Daily Mail: "[I]t helps pay for my children's education."

Saying that the New Cold Warriors crash their knees into the hurdles of logic and proof doesn't make one a fan or stooge of the Kremlin. Lucas is right about the return of Russian autocracy, the curtailment of the media, and the fact that the country is run by some scary people. And it has reengaged in the age-old practice of brutal sphere-of-influence politics.

But it's hard to take moral outrage over, say, the unsolved death of Politkovskaya very seriously when it is so selective. The new Cold Warriors have nothing to say about the intentional 2003 U.S. bombing the Al Jazeera studios in Baghdad, killing Jordanian reporter Tarek Ayoub; or the U.S. shelling of the Palestine Hotel, which resulted in the deaths of two journalists, a Ukrainian and a Spaniard. The list of Western murders of journalists goes on and on, and it's always met with the same hurrumph you get from most Russians when confronted with the Politkovskaya murder, but I'll stop there. The New Cold Warriors love to mock their critics for playing the "Yeah, but what about…" equivalency game. To which we respond, "Yeah, but what about it?" Lucas and his ilk are heaving some large and righteous stones in Moscow's direction, unaware than Western bombs have turned their drywalls to glass.

To be fair, Lucas has acknowledged murdered journalists in the West. After Politkovskaya's contract-killing last year, he wrote an op-ed dismissing those who point to similar events in the U.S. "None of [the dead] remotely matches Anna in importance or stature," he huffed, as if fame was a metric of one's deserving a bullet in the brain. [In fact, as most Russians will tell you, Politkovskaya wasn't nearly as famous or important inside of Russia as she was in the West -- she was considered more of a human rights activist than a journalist. This isn't to minimize her, it's just to put it into proper context.] The fact is that Edward Lucas would never be caught dead praising the "importance or stature" of Politkovskaya's closest British counterparts -- people like John Pilger. Politkovskaya was similar to Pilger in style and substance, both of them lonely radical critics of power and hypocrisy powered by honest outrage. Had Lucas been born Russian, he would have dismissed Politkovskaya, if he ever found time to mention her at all between hyperventilating op-eds warning of tightening NATO encirclement.

Along with being a book salesman and a bit of a self-confessed graphomanic nutjob, it helps to understand Lucas as a once-removed product of the modern Eastern European experience. He is not so much a disinterested journalist covering the region as he is a shadow member of most rightwing governments in ex-communist Europe. For example, he is a close friend and ally of Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister and husband of all-star New Cold Warrior Anne Applebaum, whose own Putin-oia recently went so far as to blame the Russian leader for the theft of her wallet. Lucas is also well-connected in the Balts, where he is considered something of a national hero for his career-long dedication to the small nation cause, a kind of Edward of Arabia for our times.

Lucas' deep personal and professional ties to the Balts and Poland help explain why he is so upset with projects like the Baltic Sea pipeline that will deliver Russian gas directly to Germany. When completed, Poland will lose up to $1 billion a year in transit fees; and it will guarantee that the Balts, which currently do not host export pipelines, won't be getting any transit fees of their own anytime soon. But despite these nations' temper tantrums, it will no doubt be left to Lucas to liken the German-Russian pipeline partnership to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, or to Neville Chamberlain's Munich Agreement, or to fill in the hysterical historical analogy here. As his publishers probably told him, nothing sells like fear and war.

This article first appeared in the eXile.

About the Author
Alexander Zaitchik co-founded Freezerbox in 1998. He has reported from more than a dozen countries for publications such as the International Herald Tribune, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Wired, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, and many others. He lives in New York City.
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