America - Andrew Stephen expects war in days

The Bush administration has made up its mind: there will be a short, devastating war, after which Am

What a duplicitous piece of work that socialist Swede Hans Blix is: the whole business of UN inspections of Iraq was always a trap intended to foil the US. That, in effect, is now the prevailing view inside the Bush administration. But will the US hawks fall for the trap? No, sir. "I'm firm on this, absolutely firm," George Bush told a friend of mine the other day. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I therefore expect the first missiles to be raining down on Baghdad probably before the next issue of the New Statesman comes out. Three hundred and thirty bombs dropped on Baghdad during the entire 1991 Gulf war; current plans call for a bigger bombardment this time on the first night.

International resistance is making the administration more determined to go ahead with its invasion. So Turkey refuses permission to base our troops there? Then we can base the 62,000 troops southwards in Kuwait instead, and Turkey can go without our $30bn bonanza. And the French are continuing to cause trouble? They are oily, ungrateful Frogs who can go to hell.

The US now has more than 1,000 planes stationed around the Gulf area, including F-15s, F-16s, A-10 Thunderbolts IIs, F-117 Stealth fighters and B-1, B-2 stealth and B-52 bombers; a hospital ship ready to take 1,000 casualties is also on the Gulf seas. As I have been saying for months, this administration means business - and cares little what others might say or think.

Bush is using what is known as a "leapfrog" strategy, discussing publicly what will happen in a postwar Iraq and ignoring the inspections, Blix and the UN as irrelevancies - hoping that the still-worried US population will also discount the UN and international opposition. He has already appointed a former three-star general to run Iraq after it is invaded and conquered: Jay Garner, 64, until a few weeks ago an executive of a leading defence contractor, has the qualification of being an old friend of Donald Rumsfeld. He, according to the administration, will spearhead the arrival of democracy in the area (never mind that a parliamentary majority in democratic, Islamic Turkey voted to reject supporting the US invasion).

It is all quite extraordinary. If Tony Blair thinks he is supporting the US on the simple matter of disarming a dangerous despot, he does not know how direly wrong he is. Having eschewed the notion of "nation-building"during his election campaign (following US policy since America's abrupt withdrawal from Somalia in 1994), Bush is now going in for nothing less than unilateral global rebuilding by the world's only superpower. Late last month, he switched back to his original notion over Iraq, that regime change was an essential aim of the invasion - repudiating what Blair has been telling Britons.

But Bush and his hawks - Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Condoleezza Rice - have a woefully simplistic vision of what they are doing. They believe American GIs will be welcomed in the streets of Baghdad like the liberating troops in Paris in 1945, Iraqi girls throwing themselves at the grinning, gum-chewing American boys. They believe "democracy", courtesy of ex-General Garner, can straightforwardly be instilled by American know-how into what they appear not to realise is a very large, sociologically complex and strife-torn country. They want to redraw maps the American way; their models are postwar Germany and Japan, and they believe that the rebuilding of Iraq and other countries of the Middle East can be accomplished in the same way.

In Bush's own words a week ago: "We meet here during a crucial period in the history of our nation and of the civilised world. Part of that history was written by others. The rest will be written by us." There is nil understanding of why such words send shivers up the spines of the rest of the "civilised world". America has right and might on its side. And it has a manifest destiny, ordained by God, to preach unto others how the world shall be ruled; the weak, meanwhile, can be kicked down or simply ignored. If the Turks complain of America's "bullying" attitude in negotiations, they, too, can go to hell.

So the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will quickly move in from Kuwait and take Iraq. Three hundred thousand troops are in the area; British troops will not be part of the triumphant march into Baghdad, but will instead be ghettoised to Basra and its nearby oilfields. CNN has 200 people in the Gulf; 500 battlefield places have been allotted to the media.

All this is just the beginning. Iran, North Korea and a host of undemocratic Middle Eastern countries will then have to be sorted out by Dubbya and his team of heroes.

Andrew Stephen was appointed US Editor of the New Statesman in 2001, having been its Washington correspondent and weekly columnist since 1998. He is a regular contributor to BBC news programs and to The Sunday Times Magazine. He has also written for a variety of US newspapers including The New York Times Op-Ed pages. He came to the US in 1989 to be Washington Bureau Chief of The Observer and in 1992 was made Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the American Overseas Press Club for his coverage.

This article first appeared in the 10 March 2003 issue of the New Statesman, America is no longer invincible

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In Russia, Stalin is back

New statues and memorabilia are appearing, as Russians overlook the terror to hark back to a perceived era of order and national safety.

It was during the Victory Day march to commemorate those who fought in the World War Two, the Great Patriotic War (as it is known in Russia) that I saw the face of Stalin. A young woman carried a crimson flag with the image of the Leader which appeared amidst the black and white photographs of grandparents remembered on the seventieth anniversary of the victory over the Nazi Germany. Just a few months later I was back in Moscow to face the fact that the fleeting image of Stalin, like a seed dropped into rich soil, has sprouted everywhere. At the busy Moscow Domodedovo airport you can now buy souvenir mugs and badges featuring a man with a moustache, coiffed hair and unsmiling eyes; men wearing Stalin T-shirts walk the streets of Moscow and just in time for the festive season 2016 calendars with the twelve photos of the ”Red Tsar” are spread across the counters of the book shops. Most shockingly, new statues of Stalin have appeared in Lipetsk, Penza and Shelanger, a village in a Russian republic Mari El. The monuments were commissioned and erected by the Russia’s Communist Party. Its leader, Gennadiy Zyuganov, promised new statues to be built in Irkutsk in Siberia and in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. Charles de Gaulle, the former French president was right: “Stalin didn't walk away into the past, he dissolved into the future.”

According to a January 2015 survey by an independent, non-profit organisation, founded by a Russian sociologist Yuri Levada, 52 per cent of Russians think that Stalin played a “definitely positive” or ”mostly positive” role in Russia’s history. Stalin’s positive image today is cultivated mostly through his association with the Great Patriotic War. Throughout 2015 the Russian media have been obsessively commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory over the Nazis, with Stalin, the generalissimo, at its helm. Political psychologist Elena Shestopal, quoted by the Levada Centre, explains that the positive opinion of Stalin is a reflection of the society’s demand for order and national safety. In her view, Russians associate Stalin with the role of the father: strict, demanding and powerful.

Stalin’s resurrection is astounding not least because his role in history and his “personality cult” have been consistently condemned in Russia since 1956. Three years after Stalin’s death, the then General Secretary Khrushchev denounced it at the Communist Party conference. Stalin’s body was removed from the Red Square mausoleum; the monuments commemorating him were taken down and destroyed. During glasnost, the openness period initiated by Gorbachev, some state archives revealing the extent of Stalin’s purges and mass repressions were made public. My own grandfather, Aleksandr Bakunin, who devoted his entire life to the history of the Russia’s Communist Party and its accomplishments, set to work in his seventies to research the newly available materials and write a trilogy about the history of Soviet totalitarianism. In popular literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made stunning revelations about mass repressions and his personal experiences as a prisoner in a labour camp in his novel The Gulag Archipelago, first openly published in a Russian literary magazine in 1989. In Gorbachev’s days Nikolai Svanidze, a popular Russian TV host, historian and journalist – related to Stalin through his first wife, Ekaterina (Cato) Svanidze – declared that Stalin and Hitler were cut from the same cloth on national television. I do not believe that such a statement would be made by the Russian media today. 

An example of a “Red Tsar” calendar

With knowledge about collectivisation and famine of the 1930s, mass arrests and forced labour, the culture of terror and the totalitarian governance, it is difficult to understand the current sentiment in Russia which makes it acceptable to print Stalin’s image onto T-shirts and mugs. Russians, who approve of Stalin, credit him with turning around the backward agrarian economy with its mostly rural population into an economic and scientific powerhouse, responsible for sending the first man into space. It was allegedly Churchill who said that “Stalin inherited Russia with a wooden plough and left it in possession of atomic weapons”. These sympathisers hail rapid industrialisation and economic progress, forgetting its costs. Mayakovskiy put it well in his poem about the construction of Kuznetsk: “The lips are turning blue from the cold, but the lips recite in unison: ‘In four years this will be a garden city!’”

Stalinists are especially vocal in giving their hero credit for winning the war. By the end of 1930s, the Soviet Union had become the largest economy in Europe and in the 1940s it was the defence industry that carried the Soviet campaign against Hitler. Stalin united people and inspired them to fight the enemy both on the front line and in the factories, according to those who believe in Stalin as “the Leader”. “The European nations are being ungrateful”, they say. “Stalin saved them from the Nazis.” It is inconvenient to remember that it was Stalin who had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in August 1939 and had been falsely assured that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union. Stalin disregarded several reports from his own intelligence agents and defected German spies about the advancing of Hitler’s army in 1941. Millions of lives were lost as a result in the first months of the war. As for the gratitude, the Baltic and the eastern European nations are quite right to dispute the post-war reorganisation of Europe, implemented after the Yalta conference, when Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to divide their spheres of influence.

After the war, the USSR became the second most powerful nation in the world and a force to be reckoned with in geopolitics, economics and technology. Previously illiterate peasants, Soviet citizens enrolled in universities, became engineers and doctors, went to the theatre and cinema, read and became part of the Soviet miracle. There is a great deal of nostalgia among the older generation in Russia, who mourn the ”golden decades” of the Soviet Union and wish for Russia’s international status to climb again. “We lived better with Stalin than with anyone else who came to power after him. He looked after us. Today only oligarchs live well,” said a Russian woman in her late seventies. One Russian blogger writes that mass repressions were necessary to align the Soviet consciousness to the new ideology, to replace individualism with collective responsibility. He believes that the terror was necessary to maintain order. There is also rising support among the younger generation who see parallels between Putin and Stalin, the two rulers who favour autocracy and ubiquitous state control.

Already in his seventies, my grandfather wrote two books about the genesis and the evolution of the totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. His third book was meant to be about the fall of Stalinism. Despite several heart attacks and a stroke, he continued working. He died from the fatal heart attack, his book unfinished. Perhaps, it was meant to be. Section 86 of the German Criminal Code makes it illegal to display Nazi images and to hail Hitler in Germany. In Russia, Stalin has never been similarly condemned. The Russian government ostensibly does not object to the new statues of Stalin being erected just 60 years after they had been taken down. The nation that has forgotten its own history is terrifying.