You’ve probably read, at one time or another, that George W. Bush is a graduate of both Yale University and Harvard Business School: two of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the United States, and in the world. Yet he struggled to form simple sentences, his train of thought tended to derail without warning, and he ended his presidency in a dead heat with Warren G. Harding – who famously described himself as “…a man of limited talents from a small town…I don’t seem to grasp that I am president” – for the title of Stupidest President Ever.
That’s by way of making the point that a superior education – and indeed, every appearance of smartness – is not a reliable indicator of actual thinking or reasoning capability. Which leads me to a bit of a departure from my usual sources of Russophobia, although she is a dyed-in-the-wool Russophobe from every angle: Anne Applebaum, former correspondent and editor for The Economist (always a source of uplifting commentary on Russia), former writer for the conservative British Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, and present columnist for Slate and The Washington Post. It is in the latter capacity that she informs us the degree of seriousness with which Russia applies itself to domestic and foreign policy reform is tied to oil prices. Yes, you heard right – when oil prices go up, the Kremlin declares a moratorium on humanity and order, and uses the opportunity to jail political opponents for no reason, brutalize honest journalists just trying to do their jobs and hand out bogus punishments to bellwether entrepreneurs like Mikhail Khodorkovsky. When oil prices go down, Russia has to stop with the tough talk, and adopt a more conciliatory tone with the west.
What’s wrong with that analysis? Anyone? Yes, that’s right; it’s nonsense, on so many levels. Have a look at this graph (thanks, Wired) of global oil price between 1990 and 2008. The low point on this graph suggests oil prices touched bottom – over this period – around 1999. This, we are told by people who actually know something about oil prices, resulted from the economic crisis in Asia being either ignored or severely underestimated by OPEC, who boosted its production quota as consumption weakened.
According, then, to the Anne Applebaum Russian Pushiness Index, 1999 should coincide with a contraction of Russian ambition abroad and a tame domestic policy, while Russia’s leaders made nice with the west. Is that what happened? NO!!!! The Second Chechen War kicked off in 1999, in response to the invasion of Dagestan by the IIPB. Enroute Washington DC for an official visit, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov learned NATO had commenced bombing Yugoslavia, and ordered the plane turned around in mid-air for a return to Russia. Russian troops from Bosnia seized control of Pristina Airport, an action which Tariq Ali’s Masters of the Universe? NATO’s Balkan Crusade describes as a “hardening in spectacular fashion of the Russian position”, and “…a growing ascendancy of the Russian military in the Kremlin”. At home, State Duma elections, a unification treaty with Belorussia and cabinet reshuffling shook the establishment. According to a sampling of public opinion, the events of 1999 showed Russians “we have no allies in the world”. Subdued? Quiet? Conciliatory toward the west? Ummm….not so much.
It wouldn’t be so bad if this were one of only a few issues on which Applebaum has been all the way across town from accurate. Sadly, that’s not the case. Although, gosh, there have been so many, this one’s my favourite. A golden oldie from 2003, Anne warbles jubilantly, “Yes, the war [in Iraq] did prove, as everyone knew it would, that we [the USA] no longer need military allies – and in that sense, Europe is irrelevant.” But it was just over a year later that Bush was pleading for more NATO troops; he didn’t get any, but he blamed the wrong people. He should have blamed Applebaum, who said the USA didn’t need any help with what was decidedly still a military operation. Or, how about this one? In “Russian Roulette”, Ms. Applebaum suggests retired Russian generals received decorations from the Iraqi government for helping to plan the defense of Baghdad. She’s quite clear that she bases this conclusion on “rumors of Russian military sales to the Iraqis [that] have swirled around Washington”. Later, the U.S. government was furious with Russia for selling arms and military technology to Iraq, of which it had “credible proof” (cough, weapons of mass destruction, cough), but when analysts in Moscow assessed the weapons – if any – had probably been supplied by a third country such as Syria or Ukraine, the official position walked back to Russia’s being “unhelpful”.
But while we’re on the subject, is it “do as I say”, or “do as I do”? I mean, is it forbidden to do business with a country owing to an ongoing conflict with it? If so, why was Halliburton – former firm of former Vice-President Dick Cheney – doing business with Iran in 2005 while the USA had strict embargoes on such activity? Ahhh, but that sort of jiggerey-pokery would never have happened while Uncle Dick was at the wheel, would it? I beg to differ. While Uncle Dick was running the show at Halliburton, that company sold equipment to Iraq and Libya that could be used to detonate nuclear weapons. Halliburton also sold six pulse neutron generators to Libya – a historic enemy under Moammar Ghadafi – through Italy. In fact, in 2000 an anguished Dick Cheney pleaded with an unreasonable U.S. government to “get with the now” on the subject of sanctions against Iran, saying such sanctions “are nearly always motivated by domestic political pressure, the need for Congress to appeal to some domestic constituency”. Yet in 2008, there he was trying to rally support against Iran because of their “obvious” development of nuclear weapon enrichment (none actually found to date), and pressing for military action. Confused? You and Applebaum.
Yes, talking of Applebaum, we got a little distracted there for a second, as tends to happen to me when journalists such as she make outrageous statements regarding Russia’s “selling nuclear technology to Iran”. Anyway, as I alluded near the beginning, Ms. Applebaum is supposed to be a smart woman; quadrilingual (English, French, Polish and Russian), educated at the Sidwell Friends School (where Barack Obama’s daughters presently attend), Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, Marshall Scholar at the London School of Economics. She’s certainly not stupid. but she’s been painfully wrong on almost every major issue in the last 8 years. Why? Two words; “conservative ideology”. Her worldview causes her to see things and events in an extremely simplistic, black/white, good/evil fashion, and her journalism – at least for the Washington Post – is often seriously flawed by her fanciful connections and imagined conspiracies.
Why does the Washington Post continue to pay her and print her nuthouse ramblings? Two words; “her husband”. Ms. Applebaum is married to Radoslaw “Radek” Sikorski, Poland’s Foreign Minister. That gives her clout, not only as a rabid Russophobic activist for Poland (her writing on the plane crash at Smolensk that killed a good-sized portion of the Polish government is an instructive example), but as a star columnist in a newspaper that is growing steadily more conservative in its politics: Editor Marcus Brauchli would sooner tear out his own tongue than fire her.
Doesn’t help her charting skills, though. By her estimation, if Russia becomes more mean and aggressive every time the price of oil goes up, they should have been kicking ass and taking names from 1999 right up until now, at which point they should be trembling on the edge of Total War Against The World. But they’re not. Because Anne Applebaum is full of shit.