I’ve read both Mr. Galbraith’s and Mr. Caryl’s reviews of ‘Russia Hand’ and tweeted these two comments to Mr Talbott:
Tweet number 1
James K. Galbraith reviews your book ‘The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy’. Although you deserve scathing polemic. Perhaps the NYRB review might provide that? Galbraith 1st then Christian Caryl.
The Ghost of I.F. Stone
In the late days of 1992, economist Axel Leijonhufvud of UCLA got in touch with me. Leijonhufvud was then an adviser to the new country of Kazakhstan. He had written a penetrating analysis of how free-market policies would destroy the industrial structure of the old Soviet Union, and with it the livelihoods of many millions living there. Leijonhufvud asked that I find a way to convey his papers to Strobe Talbott, who had just assumed a position as President Clinton’s special adviser on Russian matters. Through a personal connection, I forwarded the materials to Talbott.
The anecdote is trivial, except for two points. First, it illustrates that there were economists who did know just how disastrous the “shock therapy” program then under way in Russia would prove. The notion that no one knew has been widely used as an alibi since then, but it is false. Second, there is no evidence that this information made any impression on Talbott, nor indeed on anyone in the Clinton administration.
Talbott’s memoir, The Russia Hand, helps to clarify why this could be so. Talbott knew Russia. The opening pages evoke his youthful visit — and that of his friend Bill Clinton a year later — to the Soviet Union, the great shades of Russian intellectual life (from Mandelstam to Brodsky) encountered over the years, and how the young scholars “quietly detested” the system. (It is Clinton, not Talbott, who is the Russia hand of the book’s title.) Though Moscow was “better heated” than Oxford in 1968, the Soviet Union was drab and repressive. The regime had a criminal past; in the present, it is seen distributing “stale bread and rotten sausages.” It did not occur to Talbott that the alternative — well-stocked shops selling excellent produce that almost no one can buy — might, for many Russians, prove to be worse.
Tweet number 2
Then there is this:
… as Talbott puts it, “The rules that governed IMF lending weren’t arbitrary or intrusive — they were a reflection of the immutable principles of economics, which operated in a way similar to the rules of physics.” Talbott relates this without irony.
Talbott offers this astounding proof of his cultivated ignorance: ‘immutable principles of economics, which operated in a way similar to the rules of physics.” Economic Determinism as an article, not of faith, but of Science?
I regret to say Mr. Christian Caryl review of Mr. Strobe’s book/political self-apologetic offered minimal insights, too mild mannered a critique of Mr. Talbott. But later in his essay he gives the game away with this comment on FDR, and his confidence that he could handle Stalin, as indicative of the dangers of ‘personalized diplomacy’
One of the obvious problems with personalized diplomacy, for all the hard work it may entail, is its intellectual laziness. It is the eternal fantasy of US foreign policy that leaders can simply get together and talk things over like regular guys. After reading this memoir, I came across the following remark in a new book on the end of World War II, when an ailing FDR was thoroughly hoodwinked by Stalin at Yalta. Roosevelt’s claim, “I can handle Stalin,” was part of what Eisenhower’s political adviser Robert Murphy acknowledged to be “the all-too- prevalent American theory” that individual friendships can determine national policy. “Soviet policy-makers and diplomats never operate on that theory,” he added.
In sum Mr. Caryl is a Cold Warrior and shares with Talbott the myth of Stalin as – the fate of ‘Eastern Europe’ lay in the hands of a ‘hoodwinked’ FDR: this has resonances of the Republicans, like Nixon and McCarthy, of an hysterical charge that The New Deal was a ‘Generation of Treason’,in a dilute form. Yet still partaking in a manufactured ‘betrayal myth’. The fact that the utterly destructive coterie, of demonstrably incompetent and vindictive Technocrats, Talbott and his collection of ‘Experts’, aided and abetted the rise of the Oligarchs cannot be denied. Except to those who trade on the currency of that ‘betrayal myth’ in whatever iteration.