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Ogonyok, No 13, April 2003

Vladimir Lukin: "Don Rumata is Doomed…"
Literary and psychological analysis of the Iraqi crisis

Interview with Vladimir Lukin by Alexander Nikonov

Question: Vladimir Pyotrovich, which side are you on - the US or Iraq’s?

Lukin: This is a complicated question. Certainly, I hate Saddam Hussein’s regime. And I V. Lukindefinitely will not cry if Saddam Hussein stops being the Iraqi leader.

Question: I could have been satisfied with your answer, however, I am feeling a kind of “but” in your intonation…

Lukin: I would be glad to put a dot here, but there are some shades of meanings and additions... You have asked me whose side I am on. Your question was worded well, for this is not our war, it does not concern Russia, and we should not be dragged into the conflict. At the same time, despite my deep antipathy to the Iraqi “team”, I have also feel something else: I don’t want a rapid and easy victory for the US “team”. I say this, because I feel that the US leadership dangerously lowers the threshold for initiating military actions in the world.

Therefore, I back an America’s victory, but not a rapid victory: a long war would be a good lesson for the USA and would not allow them to lower the threshold for beginning a war on the basis of “any pretext”.

I am not a pacifist and I realise that in some circumstances war is necessary.

When, for example, Iraq attacked Kuwait, this was an obvious case of aggression, a classical case for a dictatorial regime, and I had no doubts that it should be curbed. However, the situation is different today– the most developed democratic country invaded an underdeveloped country, after mentioning on a number of occasions different pretexts… First, on the basis of an unproven argument that the country had weapons of mass destruction and then on the simple pretext that the regime in Iraq is bad. The regime is bad and no one will argue with that statement: however, from the viewpoint of international law, this does not give anybody the right to bring troops there.

Question: From the viewpoint of international law it does not provide such a right. But it does on moral grounds! If a neighbour regularly beats his wife and children, you may, certainly, refrain from abusing the “sovereignty of his family”. But, on the other hand, you may also hit him, even though his wife will be the first to express her displeasure with such gentlemanly interference. Hence a question emerges: should the values of the civilised world be imposed on savages and alcoholics with fists?

Lukin: Do you remember the theory of “exporting revolution”, which was fashionable in our country in 1920s? This was “virtuous” aggression. We were convinced that we were bringing happiness to nations and that communism represented the solution to all world problems once and forever. The same thing has been taking place in the USA – they are exporting revolution, but this time in the name of God. As Bush has special relations with God, as he has stressed several times in his public speeches… Therefore, while not wishing victory to Hussein, I do not want the principle of easily launching wars to take over.

Question: Why has the threshold for war dropped in the USA?

Lukin: Because the conservative part of the American elite has became euphoric over its unique power, both in military and economic terms, which the USA has developed over the past decade. The political elite has failed to curb its feelings of superiority. And it transpires that the present responsibility of the USA before the world does not correspond with its power.

They naively believe that this method of resolving problems will grant the US world hegemony. But it won’t! On the opposite, it will lead to a coalition of the rest of the world against the USA. I am using the term coalition to refer to general irritation at certain simultaneous actions that are undesirable for the USA or lack of action, when the Americans are inviting action, rather than some formal agreement on paper.

The US began the war against Iraq when their international position was weak: the main allies were against war, the Arab countries were also against, the “third world” was against and above all American society was divided. That is why it will be harder for the US with every passing day. People will judge the success of this war proceeding in terms of its duration, rather than in terms of the overthrow of Saddam: he will be removed sooner or later; and on the sacrifices the US makes to achieve its victory. The first days of the war have already demonstrated that problems emerge.

Question: Do you think they will get stuck in Iraq?

Lukin: No, I do not think that this war will last long, I don’t believe in the long-term Iraqi resources. I think that this war will last only weeks. The problem is only what is considered a victory in this war! If it is raising the US banner over Basra, and later over Baghdad, then this will certainly will not take long. But this may followed by a partisan war and acts of terror.

The actions of the USA aimed at overthrowing Saddam have merely served to strengthen Saddam’s image. Stalin, who mutilated and murdered half a country, nevertheless became the symbol of a great victory [of the USSR in the Second World War]. The same thing has happened in the Arab world: consolidation around the leader in front of the enemy. Paradoxically enough for the Americans who came to bring democracy to Iraq, a legend on the exploits of the great Saddam who stood his entire height to face the overseas monster will evolve with every passing for many generations to come.

The US can set up some fake democracy in Iraq, but not for long.

Question: Why? They can make it like in Pakistan: a pro-American Musharraf on the top and dozens of millions of shabby-clothed peasants who dislike him below.

Lukin: First of all Musharraf is very fragile figure in Pakistan. Secondly, Musharaff did not come to power with the help of swords. The chances of an American puppet to remain in power are low: 99% of the Iraqi people and almost the entire elite in the Arab world will not support him.

Society should be mature for democracy. Do you remember the Strugatskys’ novel “Hard to Be a God”, how Don Rumata, the representative of a higher civilisation, faces a dilemma: to enter a medieval civilisation and adopt its rules of the game or die. It is impossible to change the mentality of people by force, this can only be done only through rearing and education. And this is a protracted historical process.

Karl Marx used to say that there was nothing stronger than the idea whose time has come. In other words, we can say that there is nothing more useless than implanting in society ideas whose time has not yet come. However, the US is trying to achieve this goal. The time for democracy in the Arab world has not yet come.

Question: Here such a clever person as yourself sitting in an armchair understands all this. Can it be taua that there are no such clever people in America, who also understand such simple things? Maybe they did not read the Strugatskys’ novel?

Lukin: They are unlikely to have read the Strugatskys’ novel. However, there are many intelligent people in America. To put it simply, a group of individuals from Pentagon, whose heads are stuffed with tactical, strategic and geopolitical schemes, dominate the bodies of power today. This is how they think: now we shall bring down the bad guy Saddam, install democracy, and then everything will develop smoothly on its own. And it will be the turn of Iran to be grateful, and then some other country…

They adhere to the following views: Reagan defeated communism, installed democracy in Eastern Europe and the USSR, and Bush will install democracy (and simultaneously control) in the Middle East. They don’t see the difference. The difference is that the democratic revolutions in the USSR and the Eastern Europe were not achieved, because the USA brought these revolutions to them with their swords, but because these revolutions were carried out within the societies. The Middle East has not yet matured. And Don Rumata will manage nothing there.

Question: Does this mean that Don Rumata is doomed?

Lukin: Unfortunately, Don Rumata is doomed. Where do the misfortunes of the present team of the US administration lie? I know them all personally: their approach to concepts is too serious. Voland (Ed. The Devil from Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”) said, “All concepts are wonderful and are worth each other”.

The main thing here is to realise that concepts are only concepts. There are many concepts and you can choose whichever one you want. But life is richer than theories! And the present US administration lacks the intellectual and humanitarian values to analyse these concepts critically. They believe in the concepts too much… What is the difference between American and Europe? The US does not have the Cartesian principle of scepticism. This is especially indicative of the right-wing conservatives, as US liberals think in a more European way. Whereas the conservatives… “We have devised everything here, drawn up a schedule and have the hi-technology weapons that can hit goals with a meter precision, it will never hit a bus with civilians or a Chinese Embassy, because we conducted trials and nothing of this kind has ever happened there and tomorrow we shall send helicopters…” Such military-technological cretinism…

Under this concept, Saddam is a tyrant resented by his nation, and as soon as the Americans come, people will greet them with flowers… I would call this “absence of a civilised sense and inner mechanisms of self-restriction.”

The Americans are aiming for a one-polar world. In fact, you can strive for a one-polar world in the way the democrats do: we are the fairest and most democratic country, that is why we are the strongest, and everybody will copy us and will do as we do… But the republicans are approaching this issue in another way: we are the strongest country and therefore the most democratic and just, and whoever does not believe this will feel our strength when we come and show him!..”

Question: Aren’t you afraid, that under the pretext of this war our Russian hawks will raise arguments that allegedly the Americans have become so strong and impudent and that we must also increase our weapons and raise budget allocations for the army and the military-industrial complex, otherwise Russia will face occupation and the installation of democracy?

Lukin: They can raise arguments, in compliance with the proverb “they lived in such a way: sold their house and then bought the gates, and began locking the gates.” No one needs the gates without a house. If we are armed to the teeth with the current state of our economy, we will have nothing to defend. In addition, Russia is not Iraq, and the USA will never attack us: we have a nuclear potential. If we press the button, America will disappear in 20 minutes.

That is why our main task is to make the world change to win several decades of calm life for modernisation. If we ca not defend ourselves against a far more powerful competitor, we have to cooperate with him.

Question: Now our patriots are scaring everyone with a one-polar world headed by the USA. And is it so bad to have a one-polar world? Does this mean that they will stop producing ice-cream? Or our girls will not love us then? Will it make any difference for a Swiss citizen or someone from Yakutia – he will live in his place as he used to: why should he care about the polars of the world then? What is so frightening in this tale?

Lukin: There is nothing frightening there. Simply people have not got used to this, and everything unusual provokes at first resentment and irritation. Until some time has passed. This is simply a question of psychology… Ever since Westphalian times people have become accustomed to tnational symbols, national states and got used to thinking that they are the masters of their country. They develop national pride on this basis. Human feelings are a fact of life which should be taken into account, as the feelings of each individual created the surroundings that did not allow a civiliser like Don Rumata to install a democratic order in a medieval country. People with their feelings and mentality form a milieu for the economy. That is what people are like and that is what life if like.

You mentioned Switzerland. Calm Switzerland has gone its way, and France – its own way. But France too has a hypertrophied sense of national self-identification.

Question: Yes, not only humans, but countries too have their own complexes. But complexes should be overcome.

Lukin: Gradually. But this will take several generations. And as regards a one-polar world, it simply does not exist, just as a multi-polar world doesn’t exist. These are only schemes, concepts. But life is more complicated.

The USA cannot influence the developments in different points of the globe to the same extent. And the regional contexts there are countries comparable in influence with the influence of the USA.

Question. That is clear. The gravity of the Sun is much stronger than that of the Moon, but the Moon causes tides on Earth because it is closer. The influence of the USA over a long distance can equal or even be less than the influence of some local regional small state.

Lukin: Absolutely right. China is influential in terms of the proximity of its borders. India is influential in the region of Ceylon and Pakistan. Brazil is becoming very influential in Latin America. And Russia’s influence in the Caucasus and Middle Asia is at least as strong as that of the USA. This means that it is senseless to speak about the existence of one-polar or multi-polar worlds, this is simplification that you would expect from some schoolboy. Moreover not only countries, but also other structures, such as trans-national corporations, for example, or large terrorist groups like Al Caeda, have emerged on the world scene. Sometimes they exert an even greater influence than countries.

Question: As a strident globalist I devised a slogan :”One planet – one country – one – currency – one language.” How do you like such a goal for humanity? In my opinion, the trend is pictured correctly here: the less national pride we have, the less pretexts for fights there are.

Lukin: Let me reiterate once again the great Bulgakov, “All concepts are wonderful and are worth each other. Your concept is also good. Only you don’t have to stick to only one plant. There are many undeveloped planets.

Question: That is a striking concept!


See also:

Situation Around Iraq

Russia-US Relations

Ogonyok, No 13, April 2003

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