The Shameless Charm of Imperialism
The American President Speaks Before the Duma and Warmly Invites Russia to Subordinate Itself under the American World Order
During his state visit to Russia last June, Bill Clinton became the first American president to address the Duma. The guest made use of this noble invitation to inform the assembled representatives of the Russian state how Washington would like Russian domestic and foreign policy to be. The majority of the deputies didn’t want to side with Vladimir Shirinovsky’s vociferous protests, however. Shirinovsky, an "extreme nationalist," objected to Clinton’s making the Russian nation’s decisions. After all, the world’s supreme commander knew how to express his political guidelines as an offer to Russian nationalism. Clinton’s respectful invitations to "strengthen the relationship between Russia and the United States" and to more "shared responsibility" were met with polite applause and in general received as "historic."
Clinton presented himself as Russia’s honest friend. Since the Russian people have renounced communism, the American president no longer sees the slightest reason for enmity between the two countries. Instead, he has discovered much common ground. Today, now that the system problem no longer exists, the world is not ruled by America, Russia or anybody else but by "rules," for whose coming-into-effect we have none other than the new Russian state to thank.
"Like all countries, Russia also faces a very different world. Its defining feature is globalization, the tearing down of boundaries between people, nations and cultures, so that what happens anywhere can have an impact everywhere. …
The Russian people did more than just about anyone else to make possible this new world of globalization, by ending the divisions of the Cold War. Now Russia, America, and all nations are subject to new rules of the global economy. One of those rules ... is that it’s no longer possible to build prosperity in one country alone. To prosper, our economies must be competitive in a global marketplace; and to compete, the most important resource we must develop is our own people, giving them the tools and freedom to reach their full potential."
What Clinton didn’t want to say is that the sense of "tearing down boundaries between people, nations and cultures" is not to be understood so prosaically as a regular cross-border exchange of folk dance groups but as a border-crossing business calculation of joint-stock companies. No wonder: frankly expressed, the common ground referred to wouldn’t have added up to much. Furthermore, you really can’t find out from his concept of globalization whether it is dealing with weather or business: "What happens anywhere can have an impact everywhere." As silly as this abstraction of a blank but general connection is, it is not without a moral. Today nobody should delude himself anymore in imagining that one could manage one’s own shop to one’s own taste. After "having ended the divisions of the Cold War," the same standards are valid throughout the world—for the domestic affairs of a country as well as for its ambitions in foreign policy. No need to mention who supervises the carrying out of such "rules," since it is a matter of course that the established leading nation with its seat in Washington has taken responsibility for the policy of all countries. So the honors Clinton does to the Russian people for its meritorious "making possible this new world of globalization" include the ban to consider this as "an experiment gone wrong." Today there are no more borders in the world; their eventual restoration by any loser in the borderless business, and any attempt to "build prosperity in one country alone," would therefore be a violation of everything which is nowadays in force. Now that capitalism no longer leaves any alternative, the Russian field of interests must be directed towards participation in the world market regardless of any view to benefits. On this solid basis, imperialism develops the form of well- meaning advice and a support in mutual matters of concern. Without any false modesty, the greatest profiteer of worldwide capitalism presents himself as exactly the right adviser endowed with loads of "experience" and his country as an exemplary model. Clinton teaches his lesson like a business consultant concerned about the Russian nation’s welfare. Even though the people proves its capitalistic potential mainly in selling the country off, and "prosperity" remains around the corner, the country must continue to be exposed to the freedom of globalized business.
"I believe experience shows that government … must be less bureaucratic and more oriented toward the markets, … Above all, a strong state should use its strength to reinforce the rule of law, protect the powerless against the powerful, defend democratic freedoms, including freedom of expression, religion and the press…"
Russian president Putin intends to re-establish a functioning polity out of his ailing national life. As an attentive guest, Clinton received Putin’s program of a "strong state" in a positive way in order to recommend the old American demand for a continuation of the "process of reform" which has been so ruinous for Russia. By being "less bureaucratic" and "defending democratic freedoms," Putin ought to consolidate the chaotic affairs in Russia, which really don’t suffer from an excess in bureaucracy nor from a lack in democratic electioneering, religious delusions and media circus; institutions, by the way, which are known to serve as a basis for American intervention all over the world.
The realistic attitude that the brave new world of globalization is not governed by anonymous "rules," but consists in nothing but an accumulation of international cases of coercion was the basis for Clinton’s remarks on how explosive the maintenance of "security" and "stability" were nowadays. That these lovely values can only be obtained by superior American force is for him so self-evident that he doesn’t want to distinguish between America’s security and that of the rest of the world, nor between his monopolistic interests as world monitor and the interests of the monitored states. He therefore considers the irritations between America and Russia due to the planned American armament by way of a "National Missile Defense System," which is to provide the exclusivity of nuclear deterrence—i.e., warfare—for America, to be unfounded. "Misconceptions" of this sort are something like the stock-in-trade of diplomacy. By his denial that such a system would be directed against Russia, America’s main competitor, Clinton spells out how it is to be comprehended:
"The system we are contemplating would not undermine Russia’s deterrent, or the principles of mutual deterrence and strategic stability. …
And I believe that is a question of fact which people of good will ought to be able to determine. And I believe we ought to be able to reach an agreement about how we should proceed at each step along the way here... That is my goal. And if we can reach an agreement about how we’re (!) going forward, … this makes a safer world (!), not a more unstable world."
As a matter of course, Russia’s new American friend incorporates Putin and his lot into the circle of an imaginary "we," and thus rules out a difference in principle between himself and the victim of his friendship. He can in no way understand that "people of good will" would imagine themselves threatened by the American armaments. These kind of people are characterized by accepting America’s intention as a political global responsibility and necessity. Good and evil in the world of states divide according to their relationship to the Untied States. Good statesmen deal with eventual reservations about an American monopoly on nuclear warfare at best as a question of how it is to be realized. Thus, a strategic conflict on the highest level is turned into "cooperation" in matters of stability and security.
Countries which do not from the start adapt to the American world order without opposition, and refuse to pursue their national interests as an American concession, do not show the required "good will" which proves them worthy of being members of the "international community of states." That is why the rating of a "rogue" or "terrorist state" is conferred on them by Washington and why they must be threatened with war in a credible way, i.e., by absolutely superior means, and warred with if need be. Nor did Clinton put that as an American interest but as an objective demand for security, and invited Russia to a brotherhood in arms against the evil in the world. This would be a forward-looking purpose for Russia’s military potential.
"As we and other nation states look out on the world today, increasingly we find that the fundamental threat to our security is not the threat we pose to each other, but instead, threats we face in common—threats from terrorist and rogue states. …
A second goal of our partnership should be to meet threats to our security together. The same advances that are bringing the world together are also making the tools of destruction deadlier, cheaper, and more available. As you well know,...we are all more vulnerable to terrorism, to organized crime, to the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons… In such a world, to protect our security we must have more cooperation, not more competition, among like-minded nation states."
Clinton’s good reasons for Russia’s participation in American world domination make up a global scenario which undeniably has a certain affinity to the genre of surrealism. While the Russian president saw "the beginning of the end of the Russian nuclear power coming up" because of the American defense system and a "new arms race" (Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 5, 2000), Clinton invited him in all friendship to an alliance against all trouble-makers in the world. Of course, these are declared to be such by Washington and have probably been supplied with "nuclear, chemical and biological weapons" by Russia up to the very day. As if Russia had the same interest in defending Western world dominance, as if the American defense system would help solve Russia’s problems in Chechnya, as if Moscow did not maintain quite different relationships to the incriminated states, as if it were a possible target for acts of revenge in the same way as America, Clinton asked Russia to consider the devaluation of its own missiles as a common concern in matters of global security and to define its own military potential as auxiliary troops of the war-experienced community of "people of good will." In such a way Russia would suit the American world order and be able to take geopolitical "responsibility."
With much diplomatic tact, Clinton has treated Russia as an evenly matched power and an especially important member of the international community. The particular care Clinton took in assigning Russia to a suitable place in the world of states reveals that, from the American point of view, Russia appears to be the biggest problem due to its unique combination of unsatisfied demands for power and its still respectable military potential. Deliberately, Clinton addressed the former superpower as a part of Europe in order to make it clear that a separation of Russia from Europe, i.e., any political autonomy of the former main enemy, is not a part of Washington’s political plan for world order.
Clinton had been active in this sense during his preceding visit to Germany. He had taken the role of an international usher on the occasion of his speech in Aachen at the awarding of the Charlemagne Prize, instructing the Europeans to "keep the door open for Russia" so that Russia, in its "search for a new role and a new prestige" in world politics, would not "orientate towards the ideas and methods of yesterday" (Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 6, 2000). Since Europe has already taken the estate of the former Soviet Union under its wing, it could as well take care of the "security" aspects of Russia’s political integration. By integrating Russia, the question of its opposing potential would be automatically settled, for one thing is clear enough not to need explicit mention: any conceivable relationship between Russia’s huge empire and the European Union—as well as to the "transatlantic institutions"—would take place under EU conditions alone and would thus be nothing but a submission under the pre-defined goals of these institutions.
"Let me say, finally, a final security goal that I have, related to all the others, is to help Europe build a community that is democratic, at peace, and without divisions—one that includes Russia…
You can decide whether you want to be a part of these institutions. It should be entirely your decision. And we can have the right kind of constructive partnership, whatever decision we make… If you choose not to pursue full membership in these institutions, then we must make sure that their eastern borders become gateways for Russia instead of barriers to travel, trade and security cooperation."
What is presented here as help for a unified Greater Europe and consideration for Russian sovereignty is nothing but Clinton’s interest in institutionalizing Russia’s position as a second-class state. In confirming that he has no wish at all to interfere in Russia’s politics, Clinton outlines the freedom he concedes Russia. It should be entirely up to Russia how it will integrate itself in and subordinate itself to Europe, but it must let itself in for the "right kind of constructive partnership" with Europe and the free world in one way or the other. Once you invite an American president, you get involved in imperialistic dialectics: if you subordinate in your own way, you have common interests with us and are free to practice them according to our guidance and conditions, and your national interests will instantly be satisfied.
When Clinton speaks of common ground between America and Russia in cooperative form, he means submission; when he generously invites to "constructive partnership," a negative decision is not on the agenda. This is revealed by the continuous hints as to what will occur in case his offers are rejected. As a good diplomat, however, Clinton is careful to display good manners even when making threats. To this end he makes the American state rationale, which categorically requires respect for its claim to order the world, appear as "history" and "destiny." Even this is put as an offer to the Russian side. Taking the American will and the process of history as one and the same thing, Russia could imagine its subordination under the Pax Americana as an imperative of history and a responsibility for the future. History is widely known for proving the successful to be right.
"Estrangement between Russia and the West, which lasted too long, was not because of our inherent differences, but because we made choices in how we defined our interests and our belief systems. We now have the power to choose a different and a better future. We can do that by integrating our economies, making common cause against common threats, promoting ethnic and religious tolerance and human rights. …
And finally, we must have a sense of responsibility for the future. We are not destined to be adversaries. But it is not guaranteed that we will be allies. …
I leave you today looking to the future with the realistic hope that we will choose wisely… always remembering that the world we seek to bring into being can come only if America and Russia are on the same side of history."
"Interests or belief systems" diverging from the American definition mean no more than a bad future for the country concerned. In this case, history holds a Cold War in the ready and America the necessary equipment to pursue it. The lessons of history are just like the political offers: both gain their persuasiveness entirely from the power of the one who brings them into being and recommends that they be obeyed.
 Unless stated otherwise, all quotations are taken from "Remarks by the President to the Duma," The White House, June 5, 2000, www.whitehouse.gov.
© GegenStandpunkt 2000