Americans abroad — in the Mideast


Behind the Desert Storm

Pavel Stroilov

Price World Publishing, LLC

ISBN: 978-1932549676

$19.95, Publication date Aug.1, 2011

One cannot read this book without recalling that wonderful aphorism of Otto von Bismarck: “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America.” Almost on every page is an illustration of the blundering American policymakers blabbing their way through conversations in the jungle of Mideast problems with their native interlocutors, seemingly oblivious to realities demonstrated for all to see all around them. In the short term, of course, Washington did luck out with the immediate collapse of the Sadam Hussein tyranny in The First Gulf War.

For those of us – not Orientalists but the ordinary variety of human beings – who try to follow events in the region, there are not that many totally surprising moments here. Who did not know the perfidy of Washington’s Arab allies? We knew that not only Saudi Arabia but the so-called Bathist Arab Socialist regime in Damascus joined the most extensive alliance in history for their own narrow interests – not for the love of liberty for the relatively tiny sheikhdowndom [cq] of Kuwait which had been attacked and bested quickly by Sadam. Contrary to Washington’s perennial wishful thinking – aided and abetted by the usual Sovietologist suspects in the academy who have never called a shot right yet — most of us sensed, too, that Mikhail Gorbachev was not a “reformer” but another Communist apparatchik trying to save what was left of the system on the eve of the Soviet implosion. [In all transparency, this writer whipped out a book on that hypothesis, Living Off the West: Gorbachev’s Secret Agenda and Why It Will Fail {Nov 1990}, never anticipating Gorbie would blow it so quickly!] Nor did many of us underestimate the scheming, venal, anti-Americanism of Francois Mitterand – perhaps the only politician in European history to reverse the peregrination of that old French adage, “Heartless if not a socialist at 20, headless if a socialist at 40”.

But what a young Russian “nerd”, a student/programmer who has stolen one of the most fascinating archives in recent diplomatic history, has given us is documentation for all those old assumptions – and much more. This observer, for example, never had any doubts about Jimmy Baker’s fierce anti-Israel monomania verging on anti-semitism. But I had always assumed we were dealing with a hard-nosed, clever by half as the British would say, cynical manipulator who knew from where the world’s oil supply was coming. Instead, what is revealed in these pages, is a total amateur, buying into every trap Moscow, Paris, Baghdad and London, can lay for him, sometimes to be saved, by of all people, Brent Scowcroft, a fellow traveler in most of his prejudices.

Washington finally lucks out, Bismarckian fashion, apparently, mostly because having – as Joe Alsop used to say – marched up the hill with flags flying, drums rolling and trumpets flaring, pulling together the most sophisticated fighting machine the world has ever seen [as noted repeatedly by the Chinese Communists], there was nothing to do but use it to break Sadam.

Stroilov lays all this out with several footnotes and documents text on every page. We are told that as a student he worked on papers Gorbachev was withdrawing from state, KGB and other Soviet files. Gorbachev, who comes through these pages, too, as a pigmy who never got through Machiavelli 101, apparently intended to use them to prove that he was a martyred political genius, defeated by the likes of that ruffiian and drunk Boris Yeltsin and the evil intent of the U.S. But, Stroilov says, Gorbie decided after a few leaks that there should be no further releases – perhaps sensing they would prove the opposite.

Meanwhile, Stroilov says, under the sponsorship of the noted dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky, and the former KGB operator, Alexander Litvinenko whom Russian émigré circles believe Vladimir Putin had murdered in London with radioisotopes, he smuggled the whole lot out of Russia. If –and some intelligence mavim in Washington are prepared to to believe his story, his bonafides, and the integrity of his 50,000 documents — he is going to tell what really happened in the waning days of the Soviet empire, there should be much, much more to come as we saw in a recent Der Spiegel lifting germane German material

Regrettably, the book, itself, is less than its parts, mainly because Stroilov – and one feels for him – cannot contain his anger, his contempt and his sarcasm for most of the leading characters, not least the Soviet players. The narrative leaves out too much for those of us who are not Sovietologists, but pounds too many obvious points too many times too heavily. The epilogue – a cri de coeur for Western democrats not to repeat the follies of Iraq, Act I and II, but to support the intent of “the Arab Spring” – is no less naïve than the players he describes. He, like the rest of us, has no hard solutions for the intractable problems of Arab/Muslim society, not least a rambunctious youth bulge seeking jobs as much as new free societies, perhaps too ready to accept the totalitarian temptation of Islamic fundamentalism.

— Sol W Sanders

A version of this book review appeared in The Washington Times, Friday, Sept. 9, 2011

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