The Great Freedom War

As many people pay attention to 9/11, I thought it might be worthwhile to look at the state of the world.

Russians are landing blackjacks in Venezuela.  They’re supposed to not be carrying nukes.  Are they?  Would you take Vladimir Putin’s word?

Is this a soundbite action meant to bolster Russia’s prestige?  Are the moves in South Ossetia a prelude to similar in Transnistria and the Crimea?  Is this a preface to using Venezuela as an outright proxy, just as Krushchev used Castro? Would the Russian government, whose recent moves make clear that it intends to keep its boot firmly planted on the necks of the Russian people, use those oil reserves to do so?

Iran has done so, but is rapidly discovering that exporting its wealth to support Hamas and Hizbollah creates serious problems at home.  Is it enough that Iran could conceivably fall to a “colored revolution?”  Or are their paid thus sufficient to cow a population that is now literally beginning to be unable to buy food?

We have seen that in China, no peoples’ revolution is forthcoming.  Even while trying to puts its best face forward (as if the regime has one), the PLA showed that it is fundamentally terrified of the thought of human beings not safely micromanaged at gunpoint.  Yet, will that change with the underground conversion of tens of millions of Chinese to Christianity, and the very different set of ethics that goes with that?

And how many of these problems should be addressed as one problem: the same problem?  Are the people at Freedom House right when the document the progress of the 1990s starting to be rolled back?  Does the startling cooperation of supposedly-unrelated tyrants  — Communist, Islamist, Narcokleptocratic, and other — mean that tyranny itself is the problem?  And what does that mean for us as Americans, if we decide otherwise?

The irony, as I was doing lesson-prep last night, is that even at the height of the Cold War, the brutality of a system of gangsterist tyranny that cost a hundred million lives had to be sold as an dream of freedom.  You probably can’t understand the song I just linked, but its most moving phrase in praising Lenin and the heroes of Communism is its (brutally ironic) assertion that one day the people will be free and happy.  The desire to be so is nearly universal.  So is the Cold War really over?  Or did it start not in 1946… but in 1918, when Woodrow Wilson declared that every nation has the fundamental right to chart its own destiny?

This needs to be talked about — as a nation, we need to decide where we stand on this issue.  Because both the tyrants, and those who wish not to be brutalized by them, are watching.

Leave a comment


  1. Zathras

     /  September 11, 2008

    “Does the startling cooperation of supposedly-unrelated tyrants — Communist, Islamist, Narcokleptocratic, and other — mean that tyranny itself is the problem? ”

    When one lumps things together, they tend to stick together. Disasterous neocon foreign policy treated all of the above as the enemy. Without any olive branches from the US, they sought allies anywhere they can. This cooperation would not have occurred but for the last 7 years’ US foreign policy.

  2. happycrow

     /  September 11, 2008

    Zathras, that’s laughable. The Iranians have been cutting deals with the Russians, and both of them with narcoterrorists in Central America, long before Bush Jr. came on the scene.

  3. Alex

     /  September 11, 2008

    Your post made me finally understand what you meant by “Great Freedom War”. I’ve been thinking our current efforts against terrorism have been fought incorrectly and instead we should be engaged in a war of assassins, but you’ve given me more to think about.
    I will make a quick comment about the Chinese though. Chinese culture, contrary to the Maoist Communism of the past decades, is quite strongly inclined towards capitalism. They have a common phrase which they use as their “good luck” which is roughly translated to mean “I hope you make lots of money”. Freedom to the Chinese is freedom to have lots of money and spend it…not necessarily to speak freely in public or act as one pleases. Sometimes our idea of Freedom isn’t exactly someone else’s. So while there is a lot of dissent in China that is squashed, the majority is placated by increasing personal wealth and national pride. China is going through a phase very similar to what the US went through in the 1950s and 60s in terms of industrial growth and wealth creation, but they appear to not need all the civil rights reforms that we required to progress as a society. Their form of “democracy”, laughable by our standards, appears to be working for them for now. What this means though is that they want a different form of freedom – freedom away from our influence and freedom to continue growing their power. It may be that our two versions of freedom end up clashing in the end, but I’m not sure they have to.

  4. Zathras

     /  September 11, 2008

    In 2002, Bush came up with the Axis of Evil nonsense, branding Iran as a mortal enemy, having nothing to with them. This was despite the fact that Iran had made numerous overtures after 9/11.

    In Iran’s next presidential election, the only major candidate with an explicitly anti-U.S. emphasis won. This is no coincidence. We have Bush to thank for Ahmadinejad.

    The reckless expansion of NATO has done nothing except invite push-back from Putin. If the expansionists had their way and incorporated Georgia into NATO, the world would be even more dangerous.

    Chavez would not have near the stature he has in Venezuela or in the Third World in general if the U.S. had not repeatedly demonized him.

    We have to pick our battles wisely. Instead we get moralizing.

    Alex, the issue of the utility of assassination is very important now. Woodward’s new book on the Iraq War shows that it was targeted assassinations, not the surge, that had the greatest role in reducing Iraqi violence.

  5. convivialdingo

     /  September 11, 2008

    Zathrus certainly has a point – and while those choices are debatable his facts are correct. Iran did in fact strongly sympathize with the US after 9/11 (even as their leadership continued to fund Hezbolla the whole time).

    Had we kept our nose out of Iraq I believe we would be in a much better diplomatic place in the world.

    Your point about NATO is totally point on though. NATO has always been the sword of Damocles in the average Russian mind – it was easy for Putin to seize more power because of or despite our ignorance to NATO expansion. We tend to forget that NATO was the DIRECT cold war response to Soviet power.

    Putin is giving us a taste of this by flying bombers into Venezuela… as if to say “remember those days?? You don’t want those days again, do you?”

  6. convivialdingo

     /  September 11, 2008

    Oh, and Chavez would have done anything to get us on his bad side. The Axes of Evil was a gift for him.

  7. happycrow

     /  September 11, 2008

    You opposed GWB, b/c you think GB Sr.’s “Chicken Kiev” speech was right? So let me get this straight. Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria, etc., are all afraid of being re-enslaved by the Russians. So they should NOT be allowed to join NATO, b/c that might hurt the feelings of the guys who previously did the enslaving?

  8. happycrow

     /  September 11, 2008

    Convivial: the average Iranian strongly sympathizes with us now. But it’s not all about us. Meanwhile, the leadership hangs teenage girls and anybody who’s accused of being gay, and their agents go to South America, because it gives them an excuse to murder Jews. And that’s before you even get into Iran-funded Hizbollah more or less trying to hijack the democratic and peaceful aspirations of the rest of Beirut.

    What’s our position on this? Do we care? If so, why? If not, why not?

  9. Alex

     /  September 11, 2008

    That’s a very good point. It’s in our national character to care about these issues….but maybe we’ve been too forceful about it?

    I guess the issue of “Realpolitik” comes into play here. The ability for a government to have a particular position, and then act a very different way maybe caught up to us after the Soviet Union ended. Everyone was used to the Soviets doing it and knew their tactics, but maybe were shocked when they found out we were doing some of the same things just to other nations rather than our own people.

    I don’t know. Maybe a return to the “Quiet American” model wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but we can’t afford to be isolationist any more. It’s a fine balance to stay on top while not alienating everyone, and at the moment there are several other nations who want to be at the top.

  10. happycrow

     /  September 11, 2008

    I’m afraid I just don’t see any moral equivalency between us and the Soviet Union.

  11. Zathras

     /  September 11, 2008

    HC, if Georgia were part of NATO now, the US would be obligated to do something impossible–defend Georgia against the Russian invasion.

    I’m sick of Bush writing checks that our collective butt can’t cash.

  12. Alex

     /  September 11, 2008

    We didn’t torture, now we have. We didn’t assassinate, now we do. We didn’t do invasions on trumped up reasons, now we have.

    A lot has changed over the past 18 years, and while most of us rank and file US citizens still have the moral outrage over what you point out, it’s hard to believe at times that our current government has those same beliefs. A lot of our political capital as a certain person put it, was spent, and the returns on that investment are mixed. Some countries have rejoined the rest of the world and play nice when they saw what we did (Libya), others got more belligerent (Iran, China, Russia). Some countries that really used to hate us now are willing to ally with us (India) because it fits their goals to do so (they hate China).

    Going back to your original post, I suppose everyone has their own idea of freedom worth fighting for. I think our model is pretty damn good, but its image is badly tarnished lately which causes other versions to look brighter and nicer than ours at the moment. Russia is a hard one to figure out – as they certainly went from one extreme to another and back again, but throughout their history they’re used to a very strong central leadership. Several of my Russian scientist colleagues point out that Putin isn’t that different than a long line of Russian rulers – if anything he’s restored something more like the oligarchal days of lords and peasants, but with nationalism to keep the masses happy and lots of money to keep the lords very happy. Sure it’s corrupt, but it works for them. They “feel” like they’re free and therefore think our model is broken.

    Or at least that what it looks like and sounds like to me.

  13. Mike

     /  September 11, 2008

    Yeah, but would Russia have invaded if they were part of NATO in the first place? I am marrying a Ukranian woman and I hear a great deal about this. Screw Russia’s feelings about NATO, those little republics/countries have been getting stomped on by Russia for nearly a thousand years. NATO is the one thing they have never had which is someone or something that is powerful enough to stop the damned bear. Russia has had this coming for decades.

    Now, the flip side is a nice pain in the rear for us. In terms military, you are correct that trying to defend Georgia would be damned hard (I on longer say impossible). Unless we had troops already there, we would have to fight our way in and that could be tough. And of course there is the fun situation of all the holdover issues from the old days (the Turks and Armenians, the Georgians and there little separatists, the Greeks and the Turks, you get the idea) which we would have to balance. We wargamed a situation in this region in ILE and it was a straight bitch. So you have a point. But Russia is dealing with these issues the same way they always do, brute force. And NATO is something that for once actually can force the Russians to try something else. And being a military man, I would much rather have the iron curtain drawn at the Polish or Ukrainian border than half way through Germany.

    And on Iran, the clerics disqualified every reformer/anti-clerical candidate, Bush had very little to do with the current Iranian government getting setup. They need little help from us in messing up their government.

  14. Mike

     /  September 11, 2008

    China is a bit interesting. In my eastern warfare class, we identified two key facts that drive China’s poltical and military system and have since the creation of China. One, China must be kept stable, secure, safe and orderly. Too much freedom is seen as a great threat to the greater good (ie public order). Two, China must be kept whole. This is why Tawain is such a big thing, and Tibet, and Mongolia. These areas are veiwed as part of “Greater China” and as such China is not “whole” without them. Other states are seen as proxies and nice to have, but keeping China whole is the big issue. This is why Tibet is well and truely screwed. This is why Mongolia will always be getting see-sawed between the Russians and the Chinese, and why Tawain is going to be an issue for a long time. These reasons are why Chinese Civil Wars lasted so long and were so bloody. China could never be allowed to fall apart, not by any real Chinaman or woman. These wars were fought until ALL of China was restored under ONE government. China is the cat in the room full of vacuum cleaners right now. They are being forced to embrace some things which have the potential to impact the two central ideas that are the core of what China thinks it really is. Freedom or self-determination for Tibet? Freedom of Expression? Uncontrolled or looselly controlled captialism? These are threats to China equal to the USSR in 1985 for the US.

  15. We waterboarded: and had lengthy public debates about the issue.
    We didn’t assassinate: now we send teams to take out the bad guys, in war zones. And are now beginning to debate the issue.
    We invaded, on what the *adults in the room* have concluded was a reasonable but mistaken set of assumptions. And then, we went through all of the rights and wrongs with a fine-toothed brush and Congressional Committees, for the entire time the war was being fought.

    When did the Russians ever think twice about kidnapping their own subjects off the streets, pumping them full of psychotropic drugs and psychological torture, for the mere crime of having an unapproved thought?
    When did the Russians ever think twice about poisoning or blowing up people, often killing others in the process, merely for the crime of having democratic credentials?
    When did the Russians ever think twice about sending psychopathic thugs into neighboring countries, to loot, pillage, burn, and rape?

    Since when did the Russians *give a shit* whether they were doing the right thing?

    Substitute Iran’s regime, and ask them again. Change some of the details, substitute Zimbabwe. Venezuela. Sudan. China.

    Then come talk about moral equivalence.

  16. Zathras

     /  September 11, 2008

    It’s not about moral equivalence. It is about optimizing the sum outcome with a large set of constraints. We should do what we can. Pretending we can do more than that only causes more problems.

  17. So judging by the previous post, you’re with Alex on non-expansion of NATO?

  18. convivialdingo

     /  September 11, 2008

    The problem with NATO isn’t what it IS… it’s what it stood for. The NATO=evil propaganda was drilled into every school boy in Russia…

    That said – I’m definitely for NATO expansion. If anything it’s a hedge against these very kinds of actions. Putin is drawing the line though – and I think he’s being very clear.

    My point on Iran was that we had oodles of political capitol after 9/11 – I believe we would have gotten far more out of Iran (and all the Middle East) if we’d kept our noses out of Iraq.

    In that situation I have no doubt that we could have utilized our position in Afghanistan to recruit, train, and carry out far more meaningful headshots than the war we almost lost.

  19. Zathras

     /  September 12, 2008

    Expansion into Poland and Hungary made sense. Unsure about Bulgaria. Definitely no to Georgia.

  20. Why? Because the Georgians were more likely to actually need the protection? What about Ukraine? Are you for NATO expansion, so long as the people who apply aren’t actually in the crosshairs?

  21. Zathras

     /  September 12, 2008

    Because we are less likely to be able to protect the Georgians. It’s about what we can do, not what we should do.

    Ukraine is difficult. I would think that Ukraine’s admission into NATO would spark a civil war there.

  22. Alex

     /  September 12, 2008

    I wasn’t being clear – certainly what we have done is not the equivalent of what the Soviets did. But the world political perception is different, and that’s what I’m getting at. The nations of the world didn’t expect us to do what we have done, and that perception, whether rightly or wrongly justified, is what we as a nation have to live with.
    As for NATO….this is a strategic decision, but history says that if we start making promises to protect someone and then back away later, WE WILL PAY FOR IT, HARD. Promises broken to Ho Chi Minh ended up biting us later, as did some promises made to the Mujahadin when it was in our best interests to keep the Soviets busy. I’m wondering when our goodwill with the Kurds will be thrown away and they’ll come after us later through Terrorism. The US has the image of sticking fast to an ally, through thick and thin, so if we are going to hold to that alliance, we had better be willing to back it up, and in this day and age, that means more military might and equipment, not less. Which also means we had better be willing to commit, as a society, to more cold wars with new opponents (China, Petro-rich Russia) when we set up things that give the perception of threats to their power.

  23. The Great Freedom War is a great perspective and all, but I’m far more worried about the skyrocketing amounts of rent-seeking here in the US than I am about all the corruption abroad. At the rate we’re going, we’ll be Europe in 50 years….

  24. Problem is, that’s an entirely separate issue. If rent-seeking continues at this rate, we won’t have the wherewithall to deal with any of these problems, anyway.

  25. It’s that sine qua non that you mention that’s why I’m so concerned about it — rescuer safety first.


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