Why Does Washington Cast All its Villains in Moscow?

The current embargo on any historical facts concerning Russia and Ukraine that predate February 24, 2022 has become a permanent source of misunderstanding in the West. It encourages prolonged suffering and existential fear for Ukrainians and Europe itself. When interesting historical facts emerge, It’s worth taking the time to review some of the fundamental realities of 80 years of East-West relations.

Washington, DC – October 15, 2022: Ukraine Americans demonstrate at the White House thanking the U.S. for its support and Ukraine soldiers for fighting Russian soldiers to defend their nation. © Phil Pasquini / shutterstock.com

July 05, 2023 07:22 EDT

In June 2001, in the tranquil days before 9/11, The Guardian was alone in highlighting two interesting facts of recent Russian history. On two occasions, Russians sought to become members of NATO. The West has now erased from its memory both of these occurrences. 

As he reiterated his request for post-Soviet Russia to join NATO, President Vladimir Putin, who had been in office little more than a year, pointed out that there was an even earlier precedent. “He revealed that the 1954 response from the West to a request by the Soviet Union to join NATO was that ‘the unrealistic nature of the proposal does not warrant discussion.’”

 “A mischievous Putin,” the article continues, “pointed out that he suggested Russian membership of Nato a year ago but was rebuffed by Madeleine Albright, then the US Secretary of State.”

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:


Not in conformity with Washington’s post-World War II policy of global hegemony, which became the orthodoxy of the Truman and Eisenhower administration.

Contextual note

The idea that something does not “warrant discussion” is in itself interesting. Diplomacy has always been about discussion. Discussion means dialogue or exchange. It ultimately implies seeking acceptable compromises once all the facts and intentions are on the table.

In the real world of diplomacy literally everything “warrants discussion.” One of the secrets of successful diplomacy is that until a public statement can be made, intentions remain secret. Diplomats are free to speak the unprintable. Even positions that fly in the face of stated principles may be discussed before they are rejected. That is how diplomacy worked during its golden age in Europe in the 19th century. It had the singular merit of producing a century of evident tension, serious disputes and even acts of aggression. But it resolved most of them, not through war, but  thanks to shifting alliances.

The new style of diplomacy the US practices today was inaugurated in the aftermath of World War II. In the interest of assuming exclusive control of the vast post-colonial world left in the wake of crumbling European empires, it dispensed with nuance. It had to find an efficient way of governing the diversity of its pieces. Principles trumped interests.

The Western leaders forged what was called the Washington Consensus, initially a theory of development for the remnants of the European empires. It established a set of rules by which a new world order could achieve some semblance of economic order. Some of the rules were explicit and contained in documents such as the UN Charter and the foundational documents of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Others were not so much rules as ideological beliefs about how prosperity can be produced and maintained according to liberal economic ideology.

Though the Washington Consensus encountered considerable success, it ultimately proved costly to maintain. At one point it imperiled the dollar itself. In essence, it stood as an innovative variation on old ideas of empire. It created, formalized and enforced a relationship of what it deemed productive dependence. As a global phenomenon, it inevitably ran into the classic problems of empires whose tensions at some point become unmanageable.

Given the complexity of the whole, only a simplistic ideology could create the necessary impression of continuity and coherence. But any ideology imposed on a complex, diverse environment inevitably produces incoherence. The Guardian’s account of what happened in 1954 demonstrates the contradiction. By requesting membership in NATO, the Soviet Union appeared ready to adhere to a philosophy that allowed both for ideological diversity and a framework for mutual security. Capitalists and communists might, after all, agree on the principles of coexistence without having to align their ideologies.

But the newly constituted US hegemon realized that something else was at stake. The wartime economy that he propelled the US to leadership in the global economy had become the model for a new era of economic expansion. A wartime mentality was clearly required to make it work. Guaranteed security and stability suddenly appeared as obstacles to prosperity. The US economy needed an enemy. As a matter of principle, once the Cold War had begun, it could not – just as it cannot today – accept that designated adversaries play a role in defining the conditions for living in peace. Peace has no value. The health of the US economy depends on maintaining a war mentality.

Historical note

When reminded of those two historical facts – that Nikita Khruschev in 1954 and Vladimir Putin in 2000 deemed logical and desirable their nation’s inclusion in a broad defensive alliance – we should have the humility to rethink our understanding of history.

On the basis of this information, one possible revisionist reading of history could be summed up in these observations:

  1. The Cold War was perceived not as a problem the US was faced with, but an opportunity to exploit. It became a sacred mission as the pretext for structuring the US economy around the military-industrial complex (MIC). The economy required a powerful nemesis. Washington cast its ally in World War II, the Soviet Union, in that role. When the murderous dictator Stalin died, it was unthinkable that his replacement by the amicable Khruschev could become a  pretext to establish peace and harmony between the USSR and the US.
  2. The Eisenhower administration — which included John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State and his brother, Allen Dulles as Director of the CIA — invested heavily in the effort to establish the MIC at the core of the US economy. This required a permanent adversarial attitude not just towards the USSR. It could even extend to nations that insisted on being non-aligned. George W Bush formulated it with the greatest clarity: “if you are not with us you are with the terrorists.”
  3. President Eisenhower himself dissented from the majority view inside his administration. He dared to manifest it three days before leaving office, when he crafted a televised speech denouncing, in its first draft, the “military-industrial-Congressional complex.” In the formal speech, he reduced it to the first three terms. Ike was the last president ever to use this expression in public, even as in the succeeding decades the MIC kept growing.
  4. Ike’s successor, John F Kennedy, appeared keen on following Eisenhower’s parting prompt. Months after taking office, following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, he dismissed Allen Dulles. This may have been a contributing factor to his assassination in 1963. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, not only shared none of Kennedy’s taste for reducing the influence of the MIC. By escalating the engagement in Vietnam and turning it into a hot war, Johnson created the ideal conditions for the MIC’s rapid development.
  5. The definitive collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 should logically have led to the dismantling of NATO. Russia was clearly no longer an enemy. But Washington understood that NATO was its key to controlling Europe. NATO not only survived but expanded, though the lack of a designated enemy produced a certain degree of discomfort.
  6. In the new millennium, if Russia couldn’t stop NATO’s expansion, Putin preferred to be part of it. But Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright knew that, like certain character actors in Hollywood, Russia’s role could only be that of a villain, even if it no longer had the ideological earmarks of a villain. Rocky vs Drago was a proven recipe for good box office.
  7. The events of 9/11 inaugurated the Global War on Terror, which finally provided an identifiable enemy other than Russia. But this marginal group of extremists with a fanatical religious identity lacked political and especially national identity. Washington tried, but Al Qaeda wasn’t credible in the role.
  8. China’s rise provided some hope for a new villain, especially as it remained officially communist. But instead of exercising military bravado, it exercised its influence through economic cooperation. Washington, and especially the Democrats, returned to the established value of Russia as the reliable enemy.

Whether it’s the Soviet Union joining NATO in 1954 or the European security framework Putin proposed in December 2021, before invading Ukraine, Washington deems that such proposals suffer from their “unrealistic nature.” The US has always preferred the hyperreal nature of a Drago challenging Rocky or Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” in a real-life remake of Star Wars. These are things Americans can identify with as they munch on their popcorn.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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