What the Father of Glasnost Learned from the Doukhobors

In Walrus, Christopher Shulgan shares some of what he uncovered while writing The Soviet Ambassador: The Making of the Radical Behind Perestroika, a book about Alexander Yakovlev, who is frequently referred to by titles like the “architect of perestroika” or the “father of glasnost.”

Remember the Doukhobors? That group of Russian Christian anarcho-pacifist iconoclasts that were forced into exile in the late nineteenth century? Leo Tolstoy championed their case, and with the help of British Quakers, their community migrated to exile in Canada.

Which is where Yakovlev comes in. In the years before Gorbachev’s reforms, Yakovlev was the Soviet Union’s ambassador to Canada. During the time when he was a diplomatic pariah because of his country’s invasion of Afghanistan, he spent some time getting acquainted with this exiled Russian sect. According to Shulgan, these heartwarming meetings with the Doukhobors gave Yakovlev confidence in the possibility of Russians thriving without a giant militarist state overlooking them — a confidence that helped him to help Russia shuck off the rule of its Communist Party not long after.

Shortly after president-elect Obama picked Joe Biden to be his running mate and all good liberals everywhere began to make excuses for why this was wonderful, someone pointed me toward what Biden said as he urged his Senate colleagues to authorize Dubya to take the United States to war with Iraq. Excerpts:

…I will vote for the Lieberman-Warner amendment to authorize the use of military force against Iraq. And unlike my colleagues from West Virginia and Maryland, I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security.

I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur.

In the middle of a long rant about Saddam’s many and dangerous weapons of mass destruction that make his vote so necessary, he says — get this:

President Bush did not lash out precipitously after 9/11. He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation. I believe he will continue to do so — at least that is my fervent hope. I wish he would turn down the rhetorical excess in some cases because I think it undercuts the decision he ends up making. But in each case, in my view, he has made the right rational and calm, deliberate decision.

Comedy gold, people.

…if it comes to war, I fully expect the President will come back to the American people and tell us what is expected of us. As a matter of fact, when he met with the congressional leadership and the committee chairmen about 10 to 15 days ago — I forget the exact date — we were all around the Cabinet table and at one point he turned to me and he said: Mr. Chairman, what do you think?

And I said: Mr. President, I will be with you if you make an earnest effort to go through the United Nations, if you try to do this with our allies and friends; if in fact the U.N. does not support our effort, as in Kosovo, and if you are willing to be square with the American people, Mr. President, of what sacrifices we are going to ask of them, particularly the need to have a significant number of American forces in place in Iraq after Saddam Hussein is taken down.

In the presence of all my colleagues at that meeting, he said: I will do that.

He has never broken his word.

Then there’s this part at the end:

…the sin of Vietnam, no matter what our view on Vietnam is, is not whether we went or didn’t go. But the sin, in my view, is the failure of two Presidents to level with the American people of what the costs would be, what the continued involvement would require, and what was being asked of them.

No. I’m pretty sure that “the sin of Vietnam” has a lot more to do with the dead and maimed people in Vietnam than it does with the President failing to tell Americans how much all that killing and maiming was going to cost.

This is almost as good as when Gore picked Lieberman. And now I’ve got to spend the next four years listening to my good, liberal friends pretend that this kind of crap is something other than it is.