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Gang of Democracies

Woodrow Wilson’s dream may yet become our nightmare.

When I hear the word “democracy,” I reach not for my revolver, but for my wallet. I freeze and wait for the next blow to fall: a tax hike, another war, a new form of knavery masquerading as well-intentioned ignorance.

Imagining a “League of Democracies,” as a number of foreign-policy mavens have, I reach instead for the history books and recall the many incarnations—and failures, most of them bloody—of this perennial panacea. The League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson’s stillborn brainchild, was supposed to be just such an agency, deterring aggression and enforcing the right of nations to self-determination. The lineage of this idea goes back even farther, originating in the imagination of H.G. Wells, whose 1933 novel, The Shape of Things to Come, projected an idealized portrait of an international brotherhood dedicated to Science, Reason, and Order and to cleaning up the mess of a second global conflict. Yes, Wells predicted World War II, which in his version lasted 100 years and culminated in a worldwide plague. Of course, the “Dictatorship of the Air,” as Wells dubbed his legion of world saviors, subdued retrograde elements by means of sleeping gas, which rendered nationalists and other unsuitable persons helpless.

In the real world, it wasn’t sleeping gas that gave would-be saviors their power, but armed force, as Lenin realized. Neoconservative calls for an international federation of designated “democratic” nations, which would act in concert ostensibly to defend and extend democracy worldwide, have a distinctly Soviet flavor.

When the Soviet empire was at the height of its expansive phase, advancing into Europe in the wake of Hitler’s defeat, it set up “People’s Democracies” from Warsaw to Sofia. Of course, these weren’t democracies at all but dictatorships coated with the thinnest veneer of “democratic” formalism.

When the Communist-dominated “League Against War and Fascism,” which had previously opposed U.S. intervention in the war, turned on a dime on the Kremlin’s orders, this “peace” group of left-wing ministers and hardened Communist cadres changed its name to the “League for Peace and Democracy.” It was the signal that the left-wing “peace” movement was about to defect to the War Party, and, to be sure, the Communists wasted no time in becoming the most ferocious warmongers on the block. Regardless of whether one believes that the war of the “democracies” (including the Soviet Union) against the Axis could have been avoided, the principle holds: when you hear talk of spreading democracy, the beating of war drums is sure to follow.

Instead of a war-making machine, the idea of an international league of supposedly free states is presented as a “Concert of Democracies,” but whatever music is produced will no doubt have a distinctly martial tune. This is no symphony but a pro-American version of the Warsaw Pact.

What we are witnessing is a twisted replay of the Cold War, with the U.S. taking the part of Russia. Adding to the irony, fears of a “revanchist Russia,” as the phrase goes, play a key role in this push for a more ideological version of NATO. For years, the neocons have been calling for the Russians to be kicked out of the G-8 and forced to suffer diplomatic and trade sanctions. Russia’s repulsion of the Georgian invasion of South Ossertia and Abkhazia has given this argument urgency verging on hysteria.

Russia, we are told, is on the march, seeking to reconstitute its lost empire. Never mind that the Russians first need to reconstitute their lost population—their birthrate is decreasing so rapidly that they’ll soon be placed on the endangered species list. Yet the threat-mongers are impervious to truth: they are too immersed in the weaving of their narrative that foretells the transformation of Weimar Russia into a nuclear-armed ideological competitor with the West. To this end, Western news outlets are suddenly fascinated with the obscure figure of Alexander Dugin, the chief theoretician of Russian “National Bolshevism,” the “red-brown” current that venerates both Josef Stalin and Peter the Great.

Although his “Eurasianist” movement is marginal, Western journalists are fixated on Dugin, who was recently profiled in the Christian Science Monitor and interviewed by the Washington Times. He is the founder of the tiny Russian National Bolshevik Party, a group of violent skinheads, which has been visible in protesting the leadership of Vladimir Putin. The National Bolsheviks are aligned in the “Other Russia” coalition with Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov, whose aversion to Putin is shared by the Western media, albeit not by the overwhelming majority of the Russian people. Dugin split off from the National Bolsheviks and formed an even smaller, more extremist grouplet in reaction to the party’s alliance with Kasparov, seen by Dugin as one of the despised liberals. Yet Dugin is just as opposed to Putin as his erstwhile National Bolshevik comrades, blames Putin for capitulating to the West, and dreams of a confrontation with America that he implies may end in nuclear Armageddon.

The idea that Dugin’s “Eurasianism” has any influence outside a small circle of obscure Russian ideologues, let alone that it poses a challenge to Western liberal democracy, is a fantasy. Yet if Dugin did not exist, it would have been necessary for the Concert of Democracies crowd to invent him, with his extravagant mysticism and grandiose plans for a Russo-Chinese-Iranian military alliance against the U.S.—an axis that, he insists, may even include Israel.

The man is clearly a self-promoter, but the prophet of a rising ultra-nationalist movement? Not quite. As Masha Lipman at the Carnegie Center in Moscow says, “It’s a vast exaggeration to suggest that Dugin is the ideologue behind today’s Kremlin leaders. Admittedly, he’s been reasonably prominent lately and, apparently, there are people with money and clout among his supporters. But Dugin is vehemently anti-Western, while Putin and Medvedev never forget to refer to the Western world as Russia’s partners. None of Russia’s leaders wants a new Cold War.”

All too many of America’s leaders and would-be leaders do want a new Cold War, however, and the Concert of Democracies is a key weapon in their arsenal. The Russian defense of South Ossertia and Abhkazia against the Georgian invasion has renewed the debate over Georgia’s admission to NATO, but the Europeans are reluctant—they don’t want to go to war for Georgia’s dubious territorial claims, and Abkhazia has a long history as a distinct nation.

If NATO as an instrument of the new Cold War isn’t working as the War Party hoped, then the Concert of Democracies is Plan B, one that will have appeal beyond the offices of the American Enterprise Institute and the Weekly Standard. Neoconservative internationalists, such as Robert Kagan, are reaching out to liberal internationalists, such as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution: the two recently authored an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the establishment of such a league to fulfill “the responsibility to protect.” Daalder is an influential advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, while Kagan, Newsweek noted, is “McCain’s foreign policy guru.”

To protect whom against what? Kagan elaborated on this elsewhere, ripping a few stray phrases out of a speech by Sergei Lavrov to justify the need for an explicitly ideological response to Russia: “For the first time in many years,” Kagan quotes the Russian foreign minister, “a real competitive environment has emerged on the market of ideas” between different “value systems and development models. … the west is losing its monopoly on the globalization process.” “True or not,” Kagan avers, “democracies should not be embarrassed about holding up their side of this competition. Neither Beijing nor Moscow would expect them to do anything else.”

But here is what Lavrov really said:

It is thanks largely to the strengthening of Russia that, for the first time in the last decade and a half, a real competitive environment has taken shape in the market of ideas for a world pattern adequate to the contemporary stage of world development. The rise of new global centers of influence and growth, and more even distribution of development resources and of control over natural wealth lay down the material basis for a multipolar world order.

A multipolar world is not set for confrontation. It’s simply that new power centers are objectively coming into being. They compete, particularly for influence and access to natural resources. Such was always the case and there is nothing fatal about this.

In the neoconservative universe, a plea for peace is a declaration of war. Facts that get in the way of good fiction—such as the historical animosities between China and Russia, which prevent the creation of a Sino-Russian Co-Prosperity Sphere—are cast aside.

From neoconservatives who long to thrust into the steppes of Central Asia to weepy liberals who attend rallies demanding that the U.S. “do something” about Darfur, the concert concept has the potential to mobilize broad support. If it is implemented, it will be interesting to see how the principals finesse the “democratic” credentials of America’s allies, such as Georgia, where President Mikheil Saakashvili jailed the opposition on charges of treason, ordered his thugs to seize an anti-government TV station, and beat pro-democracy demonstrators, injuring 500. On what grounds will the concert ignore the referenda held in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which ratified their bids for independence?

The Concert of Democracies—it sounds like a television series, and the Hollywood aspect of this project is perhaps its most interesting feature. The idea is to set up a narrative: the brave little democracies of the world backed up by their big brother in Washington, up against the world’s bullies. But will the public buy it? 


Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com. 

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