Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t die a hero. He lived long enough to become the villain.
I just wanted to come back and say that my son just started kindergarten with his hippy dippy Quaker teachers and is loving it. I'm glad to hear you valued it, and I hope he does too.
What a great read. As a kid I loved Gorbachev. I thought it took so much guts to do what he did. I would love to see a poll of Russians over 65 who miss the Soviet Union. I imagine the nostalgia is stronger for the youth who no doubt have serious and rightful grievances against the current Russian system but don’t have the experience to compare communism side-by-side. The grift is just as bad except with the added benefits of more state control and intrusion. The Vietnamese and Chinese can speak to that.
I still don’t understand why we (the western world) didn’t support the transition from the Soviet Union in a way that would have assured its long term success - entry into the free world. Instead we let them flounder until the predictable autocrat found his way to power. Anyone know of any writings on the topic? Opinions?
Great Triad, JVL.
I humbly submit Lee Teng-Hui as the best example of an authoritarian who democratized his country (Taiwan). Unlike Washington, Lee came to office as an actual dictator. Unlike Gorbachev, he did not rely on murderous repression to extend his own rule. Lee led Taiwan's transition to democracy, putting himself up for re-election in 1996 (he won; the election was widely confirmed as open and fair). He was known as "Mr. Democracy" to his people.
Wow JVL... finally had a minute here, and that was a beautiful, fitting, and true tribute to Mr. Gorbachev... "Gorby" as my generation dubbed him affectionately.
I always wondered why we never see a truly "benevolent dictator". I guess because they are mutually exclude. To be benevolent is to graciously step back from being a dictator, a la Gorby.
I’d like to give a nod to Yuri Andropov, the former KGB man who, as general secretary, promoted MG to the Politburo. He did not believe his agency’s propaganda. Putin cut his teeth in the same agency. Heaven knows what Putin believes?
Don't forget that Europe looked with stunned amazement when George Washington relinquished the presidency.
Long Live Malenkov!
Was the murder of 14 Lithuanians & the maiming of hundreds more in 1991 part of Glasnost or Peristroika?
It’s hard for me to remember the proper terms, with all the Gorby-fluffing.
The Afghanistan article is brutal. Thanks for highlighting it.
I've just edited my profile and so that in the future I will be posting as GRL...didn't originally mean to post my full name...but the Gary R Lowe is still me.
Frederik Willem de Klerk. That's another example of someone that stepped up and said "enough". While South Africa was not comparable to the USSR; nevertheless what de Klerk did was equally significant in terms of relinquishing power. I was living in South Africa as a visiting academic when the transformation began, before de Klerk: Mandela had come off of Robben Island to never return. Also, the forces of change were clearly beginning to take on a force and de Klerk recognized this and did the necessary. Many at the time doubted his "intentions...blah, blah blah" because many of these commentators public lives depended basically on SA continuing to be a pariah. De Klerk snatched this away from them...because, for me, in the final analysis its not what you say but what you do.
I remember the moment in early 2021 when Biden casually announced we'd be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. I was stunned. I couldn't believe we hadn't learned any lessons from the Iraq pullout - this was not the clear-minded, responsible foreign policy I'd voted for (and which thankfully has asserted itself in other areas, like Ukraine). Trump had negotiated a virtual fucking surrender with *the Taliban* - and we were going to honor it.
What was worse was that this was being treated as an applause line by my fellow Progressives, and more or less ignored by the "loyal opposition". All year it felt like we were sleepwalking toward a disaster and yet almost nobody seemed all that concerned, save for a few journalists and international affairs experts, half of whom saw this as a necessary evil which we were just going to have to bite the bullet and accept. There were a few members of Congress attempting to prod the administration to start evacuating people to Guam months earlier - an obviously prudent solution that ended up getting ignored until the last moment because of idiotic security fears. All we got from the administration was some ridiculous assurance that they were "expediting" the already glacial process of approving special visas. We shouldn't have even considered leaving until all of those were finished.
I still consider Biden to be a fundamentally good man, but George Packer has it absolutely right when he said that he has a certain "moral blind spot" with regard to the people we leave behind in war zones (the same one he exhibited with regard to Vietnam). What's curious is that he was momentarily pulled to the idealistic side after visiting Afghanistan and talking to a schoolgirl in 2004, but he reverted to form as the Iraq war spiraled toward disaster. Biden views these things like what he is: a military parent who never served himself. He wanted our troops brought home safe at all costs, yet many of the men and women we were supposedly acting on behalf of didn't want it to end that way. They had spent years working in Afghanistan believing in all they had accomplished in Kabul, and felt betrayed that it was being treated like a bothersome burden to be discarded so we could begin the process of memory-holing it all.
There are many authors to this galactic failure of foreign policy. Including people for whom I voted, doing what I wanted them to do when I voted for them at the time. So I can't just point the finger at my political opponents over the years. In particular, many fellow progressives ultimately chose to turn their backs on exactly the kind of people that we're supposed to support. Because nowadays we can't seem to process any moral quandary without first identifying the white, hegemonic power who will play the role of the bad guy. So that was us - the imperialistic occupying power who had to go so that the marginalized Afghan people of the Taliban could be free to start murdering the westernized, relatively liberated culture we spent a generation ruthlessly allowing to flourish in Kabul. That's decolonization for you.
But there is one person I honestly can't ever see myself forgiving over this. And surprise! It isn't Trump. He's too much of an irresponsible doofus to have even been paying attention to what was going on under his nose, courtesy of the one person who makes Trump look comparatively human. The snake who hissed in his ear when he was ready to make a deal to save the DREAMers, reminding him how poorly this act of basic human decency would go down with the deplorable faction of his base - even though they'd be getting much of everything else they wanted, including funding for his previous border wall. The man who ultimately oversaw virtually every aspect of Trump's immigration and refugee policy, and who intentionally stonewalled the processing of special visas for our Afghan allies - ultimately ensuring a backlog that would be impossible to clear as we beat our hasty retreat.
If there's one person I fear being in the White House almost as much as Trump, it's Stephen Miller. I don't normally like using such fatuously puerile terms like "evil" or even "racist" - most of the time they feel like gratuitous schoolyard taunts for grownups. But for people so detestably vile as Stephen Miller, I find that restraint often eludes me. He represents a faction of America that, for all my aspirational talk of national unity, I have no desire to learn to live with and with whom I simply cannot "respectfully disagree". You can bet your ass he would have been fighting that eleventh-hour airlift operation every step of the way if Trump had been in office and had one of his rare flashes of conscience. Maybe he's a convenient villain for me in the humanitarian calamity that was Afghanistan, but a villain nonetheless.
I loved your thoughts on your Quaker teachers. Tom Nichols wrote a beautiful piece in his Peacefield newsletter about a teacher who inspired, motivated and provided him a safe place to grow. And when I look back on my education, it's the teachers who inspired me and remain a part of my heart - Mrs. Hax who loved books and cried at sad endings. Mr. Groll who made basic math exciting long before calculators. And Mr. Panell who rather than giving me an F for refusing to disect a frog, asked me to do it as a favor to him which I did. Years later I still smile when I think of them.
I served in the Navy from 1978-1982 as an Arabic linguist. Whenever we deployed in the Middle East we had a Russian linguist with us, too, because the Soviets were everywhere. That was the hot war part of the Cold War. When the Cold War existed it was always hot somewhere. So I was very familiar with the Soviet leadership. Gorbachev truly was different. He seemed human. None of the other Soviet leaders from Lenin on did. I think Gorbachev was genuinely an idealistic Communist, not power hungry. Communism sounds good, if you believe most people will act without self interest. That’s incredibly naive to think that way. I think Gorbachev thought better of his countrymen than they deserved. Communism is not a workable system. If you’re an idealist you can hope that it is.