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The More Foreign Policy Experts Change . . . By: Pavel Stroilov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 12, 2009

[Editor's note: This piece continues from the article: They Walked Like Spies and Talked Like Spies]

The examples of both stupidity and duplicity are countless, and it is often impossible to tell one from the other.

Here is yet another Cold War example:

In early 1991, a wide international coalition led by the United States was fighting the First Gulf War to drive Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait. The Soviet Union did not take part in the war itself, but it was seen as an important member of the coalition, and as such had considerable influence on the common political decisions.

At the same time, Moscow kept in touch with Saddam and tried to broker a deal to stop the war. Meanwhile, the USSR itself was collapsing, with republics demanding independence. Soviet troops had just suppressed democratic protests in Lithuania, killing over a dozen of people, and tried to depose Lithuania’s new democratic government. Similar operations in other defiant republics were under preparation. In this situation, Professor Peter J. Stavrakis of the University of Vermont went to Moscow and met Zagladin. Zagladin’s top secret note reads:

Answering my question about the development of US-Soviet relations in the near future, Professor Stavrakis said that, on the basis of his personal contacts [in the US] and his knowledge of the documents, he can make the following assumptions.

Since even the right-wing circles are interested in the Soviet support for the US in the Gulf War, in the nearest future the relations shall be ‘straight’, i. e. develop in the same way as they are developing now: with certain discretion, reluctance to spoil relations, but without the past cordiality.

[…] If [the Gulf War] is comparatively brief (for which there is little hope) - say, if it lasts for two or three months and ends in a conclusive US victory - then the Administration may take the following position after the end of the war: we are prepared to keep developing good relations, but before that, you have to ‘free’ the republics - particularly Baltic ones - from the Union. Some ‘blueprints’ for that scenario are already prepared.

If the war lasts for half a year and the US suffers significant casualties, they will have to ‘forget’ the Baltic republics. And if the war lasts for a year, the Americans will only think and talk about the lessons of Vietnam and the Gulf, and the future presidential elections. The Democrats will be preparing to win, and everyone will be interested to avoid jeopardizing the ‘foreign front’, to avoid spoiling relations with the USSR.


In conclusion, Stavrakis admitted that his opinions may be slightly biased, because he sincerely sympathizes with the USSR […]. However, he said, his considerations are based on quite a serious study of the situation in the US, and he hopes they may be helpful to us, if only a little.

(GF Archive, f. 3, inv. 1, 6 Feb. 1991)

In other words, what Stavrakis told the Soviets was this: it is in your interest if the Gulf War lasts for long and results in high casualties for the US; but a brief and victorious war would be against your interest.

Indeed, as we now know from the archives, in that period Moscow made efforts to prolong the war and to limit its objectives. To an extent, it was the Soviet influence which persuaded George W. H. Bush to stop at the liberation of Kuwait and allow Saddam’s regime to survive.

Yet, foreign policy experts are never held responsible for the disasters which they help to bring about. The career of this slightly biased expert, Dr. Stavrakis, went on perfectly well: in the 1990s he became Deputy Director of The Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; he testified before the Congress on numerous occasions, and served as an advisor for the Congress, the State Department, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and various corporations and NGOs. Dr. Stavrakis, as his brief biography at one academic web-site proudly informs us, has authored or supervised the development of many individual and institutional grants with a combined value of over $3 million.

One epoch replaces another, empires collapse, regimes fall, but the foreign policy experts as still the same. Well, sometimes they change, but only from bad to the worse. Experts become politicians and put their theories into practice; retired politicians become experts and advice the new generation of politicians. Thus, when the George W. Bush administration needed expert advice on Iraq, they resorted to the finest expert from the President’s family heirloom: James Baker. When that assignment was given to him, your obedient servant wrote an article for Frontpage Magazine, outlining Baker’s record on Iraq and the rest of the world and citing amusing examples from secret archives. I even took the liberty to anticipate Baker’s eventual recommendation: capitulation. Few paid any attention at the time: who am I to criticize an acknowledged expert, a former State Secretary? Then Baker, from the height of his experience, produced his expert advice: capitulation. Everyone was deeply surprised, even shocked - as if Baker’s advice had ever been any different.

The total lack of responsibility is the most amazing - and alarming - thing about the foreign policy experts. The regimes of Gorbachev and Saddam have gone to the ash heap of history. Time will come when the regime of Kim Jong Il will also go where it belongs. But its present slightly biased apologists will still be safe in American universities. The world is big; they can always find new areas for their expertise. They can always find new masters.

Isn’t it time to start selecting your experts more carefully, watching them more closely, and maybe even holding them to account for what they do?

Pavel Stroilov is a Russian exile in London and the editor and translator of Alexander Litvinenko’s book, Allegations.

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