New at The Nation: Second look at the Soviet Union?

If they wanted to take a dump on Vaclav Havel’s grave, it would have been cheaper just to fly to Prague and do it.

The occasion here is the 20th anniversary of the break-up of the Evil Empire, but I like to think of it as a parting gift to Kim Jong-il. Where are you when we need you most, ruthless-Stalinist-counterweights-to-U.S.-power? Over to you, Mikhail Gorbachev:

This event led to euphoria and a “winner’s complex” among the American political elite. The United States could not resist the temptation to announce its “victory” in the cold war. The “sole remaining superpower” staked a claim to monopoly leadership in world affairs. That, and the equating of the breakup of the Soviet Union with the end of the cold war, which in reality had ended two years before, has had far-reaching consequences. Therein are the roots of many mistakes that have brought the world to its current troubled state…

Within such a matrix, the United Nations and its Security Council become expendable or at best an impediment, while international law is viewed as a burdensome legacy of the past. That was the attitude taken by the United States and its supporters in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and in Iraq in 2003. American pundits started talking about the United States as more than just a superpower, calling it a “hyperpower” capable of creating “a new kind of empire.”…

In short, the world without the Soviet Union has not become safer, more just or more stable. Instead of a new world order—that is, enough global governance to prevent international affairs from becoming dangerously unpredictable—we have had global turmoil, a world drifting in uncharted waters. The global economic crisis that broke out in 2008 made that abundantly clear.

The West must undertake a critical reassessment of all that preceded this painful crisis. It is more than just a crisis of global finance or even a crisis of an economic model based on a race for hyperprofits and excessive consumption that grinds down the earth’s resources and ruins nature. The crisis grew out of the arrogant conviction of “the collective West” that it had the recipes to solve all problems and that there was no alternative to the “Washington Consensus,” which claimed to work equally well for all countries.

The Soviet Union: Guarantor not only of international stability but of western prosperity. It’s not clear to me how the world is less safe when one superpower is free to intervene in Yugoslavia or Iraq than it is when two superpowers are forever at risk of being dragged into nuclear war by conflicts between their client states, but the good news I guess is that in another decade or two we’ll be able to test the theory again with China. In the meantime, to even begin to take this argument seriously, you have to assume the rosiest possible scenario for the transformation of the USSR from expansionist communist menace pre-Gorbachev to the cuddly UN-hugging perestroika pixies that Gorby envisions in his Nation piece. How likely is it, really, that the Soviets would have reacted to the rising regional ambitions of China and India by settling into some sort of benign isolationist Eurosocialist senescence? He can’t even bring himself to tell the truth about the Soviet reaction to German unification or Balkan independence in this piece. Why should we believe him when he assure us this particular Harry Turtledove novel would have turned out awesome?

Ah well. We’ll just have to muddle though for a few more years until some other country with the means and inclination to turn America into a parking lot arrives to restore global “balance.” I’ll leave you with this quote from one of the companion pieces to Gorbachev’s at The Nation, chronicling the troubles that have befallen Russians since the sudden sad demise of Stalinism: “A majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have repeatedly made clear in opinion surveys, still lament the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for ‘Communism’ but because they lost a familiar state and secure way of life.”

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