American Secretary of War Robert Gates knows a real leader when he sees one. "Clearly, as far as I'm concerned," he said, Vladimir Putin, and not President Dmitry Medvedev, "has the upper hand right now."
Well hell, Gates should know. After all, he deals on a daily basis with the same peculiar situation here in the US, where the president also is a figurehead and the real power lies in the hands of Vice President Dick Cheney.
But Gates doesn't speak with such clarity and directness in other matters. "I think that there is a real concern that Russia has turned the corner here and is headed back toward its past rather than toward its future, and my hope is that we will see actions in the weeks and months to come that provide us some reassurance," he said, speaking on ABC and CNN, claiming that the country was returning to the authoritarianism of the old Soviet era.
It might also be noted that the US is heading increasingly towards an authoritarian future, no? Certainly over the course of the last seven years we have seen the executive branch in the US claim that it no longer needs to enact or adhere to laws passed by Congress or to terms of international treaties approved by the Senate. We have also seen this administration refuse to respond to Congressional subpoenas for information and testimony from White House officials, effectively establishing the presidency as a dictatorship, have we not?
As for Gates' condemnation of Russia for resorting to force in Georgia, one need not defend Russia's actions there to note that such tactics have long been deemed fully appropriate in the US. Only recently America used force to depose an elected government in Haiti, hustling its elected president off into exile. The US has also been working assiduously through covert means to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela, even supporting (and probably helping to organize) a temporarily successful military coup there. Then of course there is the decades-long effort by the US to overthrow the government of Cuba, which has included everything from invasions and embargos to multiple assassination attempts against Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Russia is clearly moving in an authoritarian direction at home, and is reasserting its influence and control over some -- though hardly all -- of the states that were formerly part of the USSR. But in all of this it is merely aping the behavior of the US government, which is becoming more authoritarian also, and which has always been a bully in its local neighborhood.
If Gates has anything legitimate to complain about it is that the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its preoccupation with drumming up conflict with Iran, have rendered the Pentagon almost impotent when it comes to threatening Russia.
All that is left for Gates to do is huff and puff about Russia backsliding to the bad old days when it was able to stand up to the US as an equal.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net