In her recent writings, Wedel has used this concept to analyse the means of operation of what she terms the 'now-legendary group of neoconservatives who helped take America to war in Iraq.' The strong links beween this group and elements in the British elite were reflected in the founding in Cambridge in March 2005 of an organisation named after Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jackson -- a pivotal figure in the evolution of neoconservatism. It was in Jackson's entourage that two leading architects of the invasion of Iraq, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, cut their teeth in Washington politics.
In its original form, its Statement of Principles explained that The Henry Jackson Society:
Supports a 'forward strategy' to assist those countries that are not yet liberal and democratic to become so. This would involve the full spectrum of our 'carrot' capacities, be they diplomatic, economic, cultural or political, but also, when necessary, those 'sticks' of the military domain.
The reference to '"sticks" of the military domain' has now been eliminated. Among the influential figures who signed the declaration in its original form, however, is Sir Richard Dearlove, Sir John Scarlett's predecessor as head of MI6 and now Master of Pembroke College Cambridge.
In facilitating the attempt to make Iraq 'liberal and democratic' by use of such 'sticks', Dearlove played a crucial role. Reporting on talks in Washington in the summer of 2002, he famously explained that 'the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.' But he and Scarlett, who at the time chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee, went on to join in the fixing. As a result, Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address was able to claim that the British government had 'learned Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa' -- bypassing justified scepticism in American intelligence agencies about claims that turned out to be based on crude forgeries.
These links between MI6 and the Washington neoconservatives are important in assessing Lugovoi's claims that MI6 developed close links with the fugitive oligarch Boris Berezovsky and his associates -- not least because of the close connections between the fugitive and imprisoned oligarchs and Washington neoconservatives.
In relation to former communist countries, however, Wedel's argument was not simply about the means by which 'flex groups' pursued political agendas -- but about the nature of those agendas. She drew on Polish and Russian writers to argue that the 'flex players' who were principal actors in post-communist politics were not really very much concerned with ideology at all, but with the pursuit of group interests. In post-communist politics, she argued, the real action was commonly at the public/private nexus, and its ultimate objectives were characteristically less to do with public interests than with private:
Individuals and groups vying for influence have positioned themselves at the nexus. ''Institutional nomads,'' as sociologists Antoni Kaminski and Joanna Kurczewska have observed, are members of Polish informal circles whose primary loyalty is to their circle rather than to the formal positions (in government, business, foundations, and nongovernmental and international organizations) that members occupy. The Russian clan, as sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya analyzes it, is a similar informal group of elites whose members promote their mutual political, financial, and strategic interests. Both institutional nomads and clan capture how informal groups strategically place their members in formal organizations in order to best access the resources and advantages for the group. By bridging and blending the spheres of state and private, bureaucracy and market, and legal and illegal, groups maximize their influence.
The editor of the irreverent and scatological Moscow newspaper The Exile, Mark Ames, has come to play in English-language journalism on Russia the role of the small boy who points out the emperor has no clothes. Recently he pointed up some of the implications of the arguments of Kryshtanovskaya and Wedel when he mocked Western attempts to make sense of the personnel changes following Medvedev's accession as President in terms of conflicts between 'liberals' and 'siloviki'. It did not further understanding, Ames was suggesting, to try to make sense of a clan-based political system in terms of 'the same disastrous good-guys/bad-guys filter that's warped the West's understanding of Russia from day one'.
When Putin became Director of the Federal Security Service in 1998, this was in large measure as a result of the efforts of Berezovsky and others to get that organisation under the control of their 'clan'. In fact they had provided Putin with his own power base -- and when, following Putin's election as President, Berezovsky refused to accept the loss of his ability to shape politics, he was comprehensively defeated by the man whose rise he had earlier sponsored, and ended up fleeing to London. What Lugovoi claimed when he and Kovtun gave a press conference for British journalists last August was that, in essence, Berezovsky has succeeded in enlisting sections of the British elite and of British intelligence in support of his counter-attack against Putin.
Last November, Sir Richard Dearlove gave a lecture entitled 'Can We Trust Journalists With Public Security?' Clearly there are dilemmas for journalists in dealing with questions involving public security -- particularly where these involve intelligence agencies. Probing into these activities can interfere with operations of great value, and get people killed. Equally however, the failure of journalists to probe can make it easier for intelligence agencies to wreak havoc unchecked -- as Dearlove himself did in relation to the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
From the time when Epstein and others first began pointing to the problems with the case against Lugovoi, it has steadily become more apparent that this may be another such case. But -- with the conspicuous exception of Mary Dejevsky in the Independent -- the British press has followed the official line like sheep. Consider for instance the uncertainties which opened up long before the August press conference about the argument that the polonium trail unequivocally established that Lugovoi had murdered Litvinenko.
At the press conference, Lugovoi gave his version -- that the trail actually starts with the October 16 meeting at Erinys. One does not have to think very hard to realise that if Lugovoi was contaminated at this meeting, it is likely that both he and the Erinys staff involved were aware that polonium was present. If this was so, it would seem likely that the purpose of the meeting may well have been related to its presence.
Any half-way inquisitive journalist, one might have thought, would have probed Lugovoi on these matters. Instead, the journalists simply confronted him with the official British version, blithely ignoring the fact that the recent track record of MI6 raises major questions alike about the reliability of its claims and the prudence of its actions.
In general, meanwhile, British journalists have been disposed not to ask awkward questions about Litvinenko's dealings with Erinys -- or indeed, to notice interesting facts about that company and about Titon International, which has offices in the same building as Erinys and was also visited by Litvinenko and Lugovoi. From the websites of Erinys and of Titon we learn that a director of the former, and co-founder and Group Chief Executive of the latter, is Major-General John Holmes, DSO, OBE, MC, who took early retirement from the Army in 2002 following a distinguished career which included spells as commander of the SAS and director of British Special Forces.
When the fact that traces of radiation had been found at the offices of these companies became public, the Daily Telegraph did provide these details in relation to Erinys. And the Independent noted that Titon's website states that its chief executive is 'a former senior member of British special forces and a counter-terrorism expert' -- as well as claiming that the building in which the company had its offices is owned by Berezovsky.
But when some days later the Financial Times reported that Litvinenko was paid as a consultant for information on Russian businesses by Titon, the paper quoted the company website as saying that the company 'provides a wide range of bespoke security and intelligence services to the commercial world'. There was no mention of Holmes, or of Erinys, or of the suggestion that the building in which that company and Titon had their offices was owned by Berezovsky. And in general, the British press and media have kept silence on such matters since.
It is actually hardly so very surprising to find former senior British special forces officers working -- or indeed founding -- private security companies. A pioneer company in the sector in Britain, Defence Systems Limited, was formed back in 1981 by Alastair Morrison, who in his SAS career had led the successful hostage rescue at Mogadishu airport in 1977, and gone on to help set up counter-terrorist forces in 32 countries.
In 1977, DSL was sold to the American group Armor Holdings, becoming ArmorGroup. Of the two co-founders of Erinys listed on the website, Jonathan Garratt is a former Grenadier Guards officer and director of both DSL and ArmorGroup, Fraser Brown a former SAS Regimental Sergeant Major and director of ArmorGroup.
In part at least Erinys looks like a DSL/ArmorGroup spinoff. And a question naturally arises which is of clear importance in making sense of the involvement of Litvinenko and Lugovoi with the company, and with Titon: are we actually dealing with a purely commercial organisation, as the FT seems to suggest with Titon, or with organisations on the boundaries between private and public?
The ambiguity is very evident in the role of Major-General Holmes. After all, 2002 was an interesting time for a special forces officer with a glittering track record to take early retirement. It was apparent almost immediately after the attack on the World Trade Center that the American -- and British -- responses were likely to involve military action, in which special forces would play a prominent role. Equally, of course, the attack dramatised the enormous vulnerability to terrorism of a wide range of 'soft' commercial targets -- and it was also clear that American military operations would greatly expand the opportunities available to private security companies in security and quasi-policing roles.
So it could be that Major-General Holmes's departure from the Army simply reflected an awareness of the burgeoning commercial opportunities for someone with his special forces background -- and that he naturally gravitated towards a group of similarly commercially-minded former officers.
But by the same token, the protection of 'soft' commercial targets against terrorism was obviously a matter of great concern to governments. Such protection was necessarily in large measure going to depend upon private security companies -- and upon coordination between their activities and those of the police, the intelligence agencies, and the military. So it is perfectly possible that Major-General Holmes could have gone into the private sector to discharge a public responsibility. Equally, it was already clear, given the dislike of the U.S. Army for security and police work, that the success of the 'forward strategy' in Iraq would place heavy demands on the private security sector -- which could have provided a 'public service' reason for Holmes to leave the Army.
As the Financial Times did not mention Erinys, it is not surprising that it did not hark back to story it had published in December 2003 -- at a time when Holmes was already working with the company, but had not yet joined the board. According to the FT, 'the growing number of Iraqi-financed private military companies had already sparked concern that secular leaders may be developing militias to match the paramilitary forces under the command of religious and Kurdish political groups.'
A dispute between the Iraqi National Accord leader Ayad Allawi and the Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi had apparently
erupted after close associates of Mr Chalabi teamed up with Erinys International, a Johannesburg-based security risk consultancy, to train and deploy a 6,500-strong Iraqi force at oil installations. The joint venture, Erinys Iraq, won an $80m (€66m, £46m), two-year contract to protect oil sites across Iraq from sabotage.
It is certainly of interest that Erinys made the leap from being a largely unknown 'security risk consultancy' to being a major player in the private security sector as a result of a contract won in collaboration with associates of Chalabi, which was awarded in August 2003. And it appears that Major-General Holmes became involved with the company shortly after this.
A disturbing element here, to which I alluded in my previous diary, has to do with the belief -- held by knowledgeable people in the American intelligence community -- that Chalabi was an agent of Iranian intelligence.
Also disturbing was the clear evidence that Chalabi was personally corrupt on a spectacular scale -- which had been discussed in a report on the problems of reconstructing the banking sector in the FT in June 2003 by the veteran financial journalist John Dizard. There were Iraqi expatriates well qualified to play a role, Dizard explained, but the presence of Chalabi on the Iraqi governing council did not encourage them to get involved:
He was convicted of bank fraud in absentia in Jordan, a verdict widely applauded by the populace. He is also said by those who would know to have misappropriated CIA funds entrusted to him for anti-Saddam work. A majority of Iraqis I know think he should be jailed or kicked out of the country; a minority has a more violent opinion. And, while he has high-ranking support in the US Department of Defense, officials and bankers are very reluctant to let his fingers get close to any banking till.
So Chalabi is very clearly a 'flex player'. Moreover, some of the concerns about such players circumventing 'business codes of competition' to which Wedel refers are clearly raised by the Erinys contract. When a company secures a contract in collaboration with associates of a convicted fraudster, and that same fraudster has close ties with figures likely to have influence on the selection process, questions are naturally raised about the impartiality of that process.
In terms of one's interpretation of the roles of Erinys and Major-General Holmes, of course, a natural enough conclusion would be that what were simply dealing with a bunch of acquisitive ex-officers, prepared to collaborate with any rogues if this meant they could make money.
But as with the early retirement of Major-General Holmes, an alternative explanation is possible. As is well known Chalabi had a pivotal role in the project for 'regime change' in Iraq -- and indeed, was viewed by the neocons who dominated the Department of Defense as the prospective leader of the new secular democratic U.S.- and Israel-friendly country they hoped the invasion would create. As is also well-known, the neocons had quite unrealistic hopes about the likely outcome of the invasion -- anticipating that Chalabi would be welcomed in Iraq in the way that Charles de Gaulle had been welcomed in France in 1944.
In the event, a violent Sunni insurgency erupted, and the defence of oil installations became a major priority -- particularly as optimism about the invasion of Iraq being largely or entirely self-financing had dependent upon the rapid restoration of oil exports. Moreover, in the majority Shia community, the key players turned out to be Islamists with close ties to the clerical regime in Tehran -- and their own militias.
Accordingly, it is perfectly possible that the award of the contract to protect oil installations to Erinys was the product of a kind of political 'firefighting' operation. If this were so, this would certainly incline one to see Erinys as a company which operated in support of political agendas, rather than simply pursuing commercial objectives. One might also be inclined to suspect that figures involved with the company were involved with neoconservative networks.
What then of the other company to which Litvinenko introduced Lugovoi -- RISC Management? According to the company's website, the Chief Executive Officer is a former senior Scotland Yard detective, Keith Hunter, who had been involved in investigating 'serious and organised crime' before going into the private sector, and becoming Joint CEO of a company called ISC Global, which was then 'rebranded' to become RISC.
By contrast to the coyness of the Financial Times about Erinys, in its reporting following Litvinenko's death the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times did hark back to earlier stories it had published about RISC. The paper noted that Berezovsky, to whose entourage Litvinenko belonged, had been the client of the company, which it described as having been formerly known as ISC.
Having quoted his spokesman explaining that RISC 'was used to protect the billionaire and his family', the Sunday Times went on to claim that documents it had seen 'show that the firm also worked on plans in 2003 for a worldwide operation to ''discredit [Putin] and those around him'', explaining that ''the best possible outcome would be for [Putin] to be removed from power at the earliest opportunity.'''
Here the paper was harking back to an investigation it had published in May 2006 into the death in a mysterious helicopter crash in March 2004 of Stephen Curtis, who as well as serving as chairman of ISC had been the British lawyer for Group Menatep, the company behind Yukos, Russia's second largest oil company. The expertise of Curtis, according to the Sunday Times, 'was in setting up complex offshore structures to disperse Yukos's vast profits.'
One of the owners of Menatep, the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, failed to emulate Berezovsky's success in escaping from Russia, and was arrested on fraud and tax evasion charges in October 2003 -- his associate Leonid Nevzlin however did manage to get to Israel.
When the change of name was announced in October 2005, a speech was given by another signatory of the Statement of Principles of The Henry Jackson Society, Colonel Tim Collins -- a former SAS officer who gave the famous 'we come to liberate not to conquer speech' prior to the invasion of Iraq, which it is said was hung on the wall of the Oval Office. Currently, Collins features among the Management Team on the company website, which refers to his 'current consultative roles and political aspirations' -- and the most recent accounts show him as a director.
If in fact the claims made by the Sunday Times about ISC are correct, the claim that RISC was involved in trying to recruit Lugovoi in order to obtain compromising information about Putin hardly seem utterly beyond the bounds of possibility -- while the evidence from Italy suggests that this is very much the kind of activity that Litvinenko might have been involved in.
Of course, this does not validate Lugovoi's claims of MI6 involvement. And if, as the Sunday Times claims, £37m was authorised for the first phase of the campaign against Putin run through ISC Global, it is possible to see how purely commercial motives could persuade private security companies in London to become instruments of the attempted counter-attack of the fugitive oligarchs against Putin.
But equally, the possibility that the company exists in an ambiguous space on the boundary between public and private remains, as with Erinys, open. And this possibility also raises a further question -- which has to do with the conception held by signatories of the Statement of Principles of the The Henry Jackson Society of the kind of 'liberal and democratic' societies they want to bring into being. Did they think that replacing the tyrant Saddam by the convicted fraudster Chalabi counted as making Iraq 'liberal and democratic'? Moreover, do they see the counter-attack against Putin by figures like Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky, and Nevzlin as likely to make Russia more 'liberal and democratic'?
Before continuing with the attempt to locate Erinys and RISC in the wider context of the 'forward strategy', one needs I think to reflect on some of the extremely odd assumptions made by the champions of that strategy.
In an interview not long before the invasion of Iraq, Richard Perle made clear the basis of his optimism about its likely results:
I think there is a potential civic culture in Arab countries that can lead to democratic institutions and I think Iraq is probably the best place to put that proposition to the test because it's a sophisticated educated population that has suffered horribly under totalitarian rule, and there's a yearning for freedom that, you know, I think we find everywhere in the world but especially in subject populations.
The complicated realities of Iraq are here subsumed under a highly general -- and some would say acutely simplistic -- formula about the yearning of the victims of 'totalitarian rule' for 'freedom'. In looking at the origins of that formula -- and of much of the thinking behind the 'Global War on Terror' -- one can usefully look back at the key NSC 68 strategy paper of April 1950, perhaps the single most significant statement of American strategy in the Cold War, which was masterminded by Paul Nitze, another central figure in the evolution of neoconservatism.
At the start of NSC 68, it was claimed that the Soviet Union 'seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.' Developing this argument, the paper's authors employed a dichotomy between freedom and slavery which echoes the 'house divided' speech of 1858, in which Abraham Lincoln had argued that the United States could not permanently survive half slave and half free.
In NSC 68, the dichotomy was employed not simply to define the nature of the contest, but as grounds for the apocalyptic vision of Soviet malevolence. According to NSC 68, the 'existence and persistence of the idea of freedom is a permanent threat to the foundation of the slave society,' and as a result 'it therefore regards as intolerable the long continued existence of freedom in the world.'
On the face of things at least, it is this argument about slavery and freedom which underpins the paper's interpretation of the implications of the Soviet acquisition of atomic weapons. There was, the paper argued, 'no justification in Soviet theory or practice for predicting that, should the Kremlin become convinced that it could cause our downfall by one conclusive blow, it would not seek that solution.'
This apocalyptic view was not shared at the time by the State Department's leading Soviet experts, and would be questioned subsequently by CIA analysts of Soviet policy. In fact, the background to it is complex, and one should be cautious about simply ridiculing the paper, which merits a more considered examination than I can give it here.
For my present purposes, however, what are important are the ways that ideas from the paper are carried forward into the present. And two properties of the original argument echo forward. One is the implicit suggestion that replacing tyrannies by societies which are 'liberal and democratic' is quite easy -- another that opposition to the United States is the product of hatred of what is good about that country.
The apocalyptic vision of the Soviet Union as ready to unleash nuclear devastation in pursuit of its aspirations to 'world domination', and of the nuclear balance as of decisive importance in the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, was carried forward by a number of key figures. One was Senator Jackson; others were the nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter, who worked first at the RAND think-tank and then at the University of Chicago, and his wife Roberta.
His famous 1958 article 'The Delicate Balance of Terror', and her 1962 study of Pearl Harbor, are elaborations of themes from NSC 68. Both Perle and Wolfowitz were acolytes of Wohlstetter, before becoming part of the circle around Jackson. What these figures represent is the coming together of the NSC 68 tradition with Zionism, which is crucial to the formation of neoconservatism as it exists today. Also noteworthy is the fact that Ahmad Chalabi got to know Wohlstetter in Chicago, and was introduced by him to Perle.
An aide to Jackson was Dorothy Fosdick, who had served in the State Department's Policy Planning Staff under Nitze. She was crucial in bringing to prominence Richard Pipes, who in 1976 chaired the famous exercise known as 'Team B' -- which provided the intellectual foundation of the massive American arms buildup that began towards the end of the Carter Administration and accelerated under Reagan.
The exercise was actually the product a concerted attack on the annual National Intelligence Assessments of the Soviet threat produced by the Central Intelligence agency, which had been set off two years earlier with a claim by Wohlstetter that the CIA systematically underestimated Soviet missile deployment.
In the event, virtually all Team B's criticisms of the NIE turned out to be wrong. And, according to the former long-serving CIA analyst Willard C. Matthias in his study America's Strategic Blunders, the history of estimates of Soviet strategic power by the U.S. intelligence community after 1976 'strongly suggests' that the 'Team B' exercise 'led in effect to a virtually complete breakdown in the community's capacity to produce authoritative judgements on Soviet plans and objectives.'
One has I think to contemplate the possibility that for Dearlove to sign the Statement of Principles of The Henry Jackson Society implies taking up of a position in an internal argument within the American policy and intelligence communities -- with the neoconservatives and against their opponents.
Another influential figure at the University of Chicago was the German émigré intellectual historian and political theorist Leo Strauss. Following Hitler's accession to power, Strauss had insisted that a serious critique of National Socialism was only possible from a fascist perspective. Subsequently he became famous for the doctrine that the great philosophers of the past shared a common 'esoteric doctrine'. As he clearly practiced what he preached, while he certainly moved some way from his original fascist convictions, it remains difficult to be clear as to precisely how far he did so.
What is clear is that Strauss's convictions were deeply inimical to the liberal convictions of figures like the Yale academic turned intelligence analyst Sherman Kent, whose thinking shaped the analytical tradition inside the CIA.
A Yale historian who had served in the Research and Analysis Branch of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, Kent had been part of that mobilisation of the liberal intelligentsia into intelligence work which had been a central feature of the war effort in both the United States and Britain. In his 1949 study Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy Kent advocated a 'research' approach to intelligence, a corollary of which was that intelligence agencies should not concentrate on covert forms of intelligence, but on focusing questions and mobilising relevant information to answer them.
In general, practitioners of this 'research' approach see the bulk of relevant information as coming from publicly available sources -- although what comes from covert sources may be critical.
A series of publications produced in the 1990s under the auspices of an organisation called the National Security Information Center mounted a multi-pronged attack on the CIA analytical tradition which was shaped by Kent's work. Among the principal authors were two former students of Strauss, Gary Schmitt and Abram Shulsky -- who in their 1999 paper 'Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence' proposed his conceptions of 'esoteric writing' as a better model for intelligence analysts than Kent's 'research' approach.
In their 1996 report on The Future of US Intelligence, Schmitt and Shulsky had stressed the role of covert operations, among other things 'in supporting the transition to liberal democracies abroad and countering efforts to frustrate these transitions.' And they stressed the role of counterintelligence, which, they wrote, 'has to guard the integrity of the government's collection and analysis process by penetrating, understanding, and possibly manipulating an adversary's intelligence efforts against us.'
Subsequently, Shulsky was able to put his ideas into practice as head the Office of Special Plans, which performed a function parallel to that of Dearlove's MI6 and the JIC under Scarlett in Britain in disseminating claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which turned out to be baseless. At the American end, a key role in this process was played by Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.
It has been suggested that Strauss's influence on neoconservatism is frequently overestimated, at the expense of that of the Wohlstetters. However, one also needs to take into account Strauss's role in introducing into American debates ideas from Alexander Kojève, a Russian émigré to France who gave a notable seminar on Hegel in Paris in the Thirties, and also -- having earlier been a Stalinist -- became a high-ranking bureaucrat, influential in the development of the European Union and the GATT.
It was Strauss's pupil Allan Bloom who -- besides influencing Wolfowitz -- introduced his pupil Francis Fukuyama to Kojève's work on Hegel. This provided the basis for the famous article on 'The End of History' which Fukuyama published in 1989, when he was deputy director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff.
In relation to the 'forward strategy' recommended by The Henry Jackson Society -- and the Schmitt and Shulsky's remarks about 'supporting the transition to liberal democracies abroad and countering efforts to frustrate these transitions', Fukuyama's essay is worthy of attention. It is sometimes suggested that he thought history ended in 1989. In fact, following Kojève, he argued that it had in essence already ended back in 1806.
Kojève sought to resurrect the Hegel of the Phenomenology of Mind, the Hegel who proclaimed history to be at an end in 1806. For as early as this Hegel saw in Napoleon's defeat of the Prussian monarchy at the Battle of Jena the victory of the ideals of the French Revolution, and the imminent universalization of the state incorporating the principles of liberty and equality. Kojève, far from rejecting Hegel in light of the turbulent events of the next century and a half, insisted that the latter had been essentially correct. The Battle of Jena marked the end of history because it was at that point that the vanguard of humanity (a term quite familiar to Marxists) actualized the principles of the French Revolution.
The relevance of the ideas of Fukuyama's ideas to arguments about 'flex players' is brought out in a fascinating documentary entitled 'Return of the Czar', broadcast by PBS shortly after Putin became president. Among those interviewed for the programme, in addition to Janine Wedel, were three former members of the political staff of the U.S. Moscow Embassy, who expressed marked reservations about the way the attempt to make Russia 'liberal and democratic' had been conducted.
Discussing the unreality of American anticipations at the time, a former Chief Political Analyst at the Embassy, Thomas Graham, harked back to Fukuyama, explaining that his article 'did reflect the views of a large segment of the American political-business establishment'. It was believed, Graham commented, that 'there really was no alternative to democratic politics and market economies, which would develop naturally once you removed the obstacles in the Soviet Union.'
His predecessor as Chief Political Analyst, E. Wayne Merry, produced a bleak summary of what had become of these hopes, commenting that
we created a virtual open shop for thievery at a national level and for capital flight in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the raping of natural resources and industries on a scale which I doubt has ever taken place in human history.
A major root of Wedel's arguments about 'flex players' lay in her analyses of how Western experts involved with the programme of 'shock therapy' -- in particular the Harvard Institute for International Development -- actually operated: as well of the system they helped to create.
One might say that what unites the activities of the advocates of 'shock therapy' in Russia and the neoconservatives -- and also their British fellow-travellers -- is a bizarre combination of pretensions to champion democratic values, with a style of operating which works to subvert the basic principles upon which liberal societies are supposed to be based. Involved here commonly seems to be a kind of quasi-Bolshevik belief in the ability of certain kinds of elites to manipulate the mass of mankind for their own good.
But then perhaps this is a key part of the significance of the way that Fukuyama, whatever his disagreements with Marxism, does not appear to think that the outcomes of Marxist social experimentation in any way call into question the conception of a 'vanguard' possessing 'consciousness'. So we should perhaps see his paper as representing a kind of 'Bolshevisation' -- or perhaps it would be better to say 'Jacobinisation' -- of liberalism, given Fukuyama's harking back to the French Revolution.
This propensity to imitate characteristics of the Bolshevik enemy may also have been implicit in the NSC 68 tradition from the outset -- and even to have been a present, as a latent possibility, in arguments made by Lincoln.
What Marxism-Leninism, Fukuyama's Hegelianism, and the argument about 'freedom' and 'slavery' alike in the 'house divided' speech and NSC 68 have in common is that they derive ultimately from a Christian conception of God's will as active in history, which is moving towards some kind of utopian consummation. An inherent tendency of such thinking, either in religious or secularised versions, is to create a distinction between those who possess the truth about God's will -- or the direction of history -- and those who do not accept this truth. Failure to accept this truth is naturally to be interpreted as the product of evil will or ignorance. And how can the just, possessing knowledge, be expected to take seriously the views of the evil or the ignorant?
To suggest as Fukuyama does that history ended in 1806 because the 'vanguard' had attained 'consciousness' at that time may sound simply eccentric. In fact it implies an interpretation of European -- and world -- history over the past two centuries which is quasi-theological in nature.
The more unfortunate aspects of that history -- which includes both immensely destructive wars and savage tyrannies -- are naturally to be explained in terms similar to those Christians have often used to make sense of the failure either of non-Christians or of different kinds of Christians to accept beliefs which according to the Christians in question should be self-evident.
Like such forms of Christianity, Jacobin liberalism naturally interprets unfortunate events such as world wars and tyrannies in terms of moral failure or intellectual inadequacy. The moral failure can be that of atavistic and self-centered traditional elites, refusing to accept the new world of liberty and equality, or of revolutionary conspirators, whose dominant motive is held to be hunger for power -- as in NSC 68. The intellectual failure can be that of ignorant masses who have not yet attained 'consciousness' and need to be enlightened by those who have.
This beatifically simplistic vision is quite alien to a very different, if diffuse, liberal tradition, whose representatives have characteristically repudiated reactionary prescriptions, while not denying that reactionary anxieties about catastrophic potentialities implicit in 'modernisation' have force. By contrast to Fukuyama, Alexis de Tocqueville certainly did not see the 'Caesarism' of Napoleon, whatever virtues it might have had, as representing the triumph of liberty. His central concern was to identify why the American Revolution had managed to create a successful combination of equality and liberty, and its French counterpart had failed to do so.
A key part of Tocqueville's answer had to do with his contention that a history of authoritarian centralisation, while it may generate aspirations for freedom, may also make these hard to actualise. Looking back on the disappointment of the high hopes of 1789, Tocqueville reflected bitterly that 'a people who badly prepared to act on its own could not attempt to reform everything at once without destroying everything.'
It may be doubted whether many of those who in 1989 and the years that followed echoed Fukuyama's conception of a utopian consummation of history as having arrived understood its bizarre Hegelian foundations. Perhaps one should see these as a way of shoring up a messianic conception of American nationalism suitable for those to whom its original Protestant Christian foundations are alien.
But, as Thomas Graham points out, the fundamental quasi-theological approach did very directly shape American policy towards the former Soviet Union in the Nineties. One consequence of it was that many American policymakers were attempting to make sense of Russian realities in terms of a conceptual structure which made it impossible to grasp central successes of American policy.
To see the Bolsheviks as having refused to accept the self-evident truths of American-style liberalism because of hunger for power makes it difficult to contemplate the possibility that changing circumstances could fundamentally change perceptions within the Soviet elite. In fact the glaring economic contrasts between Eastern and Western Europe which emerged during the Cold War, and the success of the 'tiger economies' of the Far East, quite patently produced acute disillusionment with the command economy among sections of that elite.
But as the evidence of such disillusionment could not easily be accommodated by Jacobin liberalism, the neoconservatives interpreted change in the Soviet Union as simply a reflection of the Reagan-era military build-up, for which 'Team B' had laid the intellectual foundations.
Having failed to grasp that there were large elements within the Soviet elite which accepted the bankruptcy of the existing system, American policymakers fell victim to a further ideologically-grounded error. In terms of a style of liberalism drawing on Tocqueville, it would have been natural enough in thinking about the possibilities and difficulties of the exit from communism in 1991 to hark back to his dictum that 'a people who badly prepared to act on its own could not attempt to reform everything at once without destroying everything.'
And it would also have been natural to conclude that, in these circumstances, there was a very great risk of catastrophic collapse -- and also ample room for difference of opinion and debate about the least worst route to take to exit from communism. But in terms of a Fukuyama-style liberalism, the fundamental problem was simply to break the hold of the evil men -- the 'bad-guys', to hark back to Mark Ames's argument. The 'good-guys' were those who wanted to deconstruct the existing system as quickly as possible, and anyone regarding this approach as dangerously reckless was either a 'bad-guy', or ignorant.
The resistance of the 'bad-guys' and the ignorant, even when expressed through democratic elections, had absolutely no legitimacy, and was something to be circumvented -- using the manipulative methods characteristic of 'flex players'.
So quite naturally, Western Jacobin liberals formed an alliance with what was in some ways the most 'Bolshevik' or 'Jacobin' element in elite Russian opinion. As Graham noted, many of these 'young reformers' were actually members of the Soviet nomenklatura, coming in particular out of the economic think tanks in Moscow. With many, at the outset the 'flex player' style of politics may genuinely have been in support of an agenda they saw as vital to their country's future.
It may have been simply naivety and impatience which inclined them to accept the extraordinary belief that simply deconstructing the existing system would allow the 'invisible hand' work its magic in generating public good out of private self-interest.
The effect of such deconstruction, however, was itself likely to mean that private self-interest manifested itself in the style of 'clan' politics Wedel analysed. Once it became clear that the old system was on the way out, the 'rational' strategy for those with access to the levers of power and influence in it was not to defend that system, but to use those levers to open up opportunities for themselves in the emerging new system. A consequence was that Western analysts became obsessed by the notion of opposition to change from the 'bad-guys' of the nomenklatura, when this was becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Remarking on the way that money was seen as a tool of political power, Graham's erstwhile Moscow Embassy colleague Donald Jensen commented that was how things were seen:
Not only by so-called free marketeers, challenging the command economy, but the fact that a great portion of the Soviet elite, beginning in the late 1980's -- elites who we saw at the time as committed communists or hardliners were themselves engaging in quasi legal and illegal business, using state money to create companies and firms and business schemes from which they could benefit.
A crucial resource, which enabled the 'clan' surrounding Anatoli Chubais to prevail over its rivals, was American support, and more generally Western support -- both financial otherwise. And in getting this support, those whom disillusioned former U.S. Embassy officials like Graham and Jensen call the 'so-called free marketeers' and 'so-called reformers' adeptly exploited the ideological fantasies of Americans -- and Westerners in general. As Jensen recalls ruefully, 'as time went on really knew how to play us' -- they 'knew very consciously how to project what they wanted to an American audience and get the Americans to go along.' And here, there are striking similiarities between the modus operandi of the Russian 'so-called reformers' and Chalabi.
The political project of the neoconservatives and their British fellow-travellers with regard to the Middle East was actually breathtakingly ambitious. The new secular America- and Israel-friendly society which the toppling of Saddam was supposed to create was envisaged as a dagger pointed at the heart of the clerical regime in Tehran. The transformation it would initiate would lead to a permanent solutions of the major security problems both of Israel and of the United States -- and in particular those of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The kind of nightmare set out in NSC 68 -- of evil tyrants threatening either country with nuclear weapons -- would be set definitively at rest.
But at the heart of this project there lay one of the all time great 'flex players' -- whose skill at juggling multiple roles enabled him to combine ties with the movers and shakers in Washington with ties with Iranian intelligence. The Financial Times journalist John Dizard, whose incisive comments on Chalabi's business practices in that paper I cited earlier, produced in May 2004 a classic article on Chalabi, entitled 'How Ahmad Chalabi conned the neocons'. Having noted as a result of the invasion of Iraq the clerical regime in Tehran had 'dramatically improved its strategic position', Dizard concluded by remarking of the neoconservatives: 'Some of them must be rueing the day they met Ahmed Chalabi, who told them the fairy tales they wanted to hear.'
The article, interestingly, appeared not in the FT, but on the Salon.com website. Readers of that once great paper are no longer in grave danger of being disturbed by too much troubling information.
Rather than as Gary Schmitt and Abram Shulsky envisaged the United States succeeding in 'penetrating, understanding, and possibly manipulating' the efforts of an adversary's intelligence agencies, it seems likely that Shulsky and the Office of Special Plans ended by being an instrument through which Iranian intelligence did precisely that to the United States.
I have argued at length in a post the blog run by the former chief of Middle East Intelligence at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Colonel W. Patrick Lang, that Schmitt and Shulsky both traduced Kent, and attacked the foundations of sound intelligence practice -- and that the fact that they were deceived by Chalabi and the Iranians was directly connected to basic flaws in the intelligence method they advocated.
As I noted in a contribution to an extended discussion of Chalabi's role on Colonel Lang's blog, the basis of his success lay not simply in his skilful supplying of disinformation suggesting that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. As or more important was his ability to talk the language of Jacobin liberalism -- while being clearly aware of its complete lack of contact with Iraqi realities. And it was the lack of a proper 'research' approach -- which would have exposed the hollowness of Chalabi's claims about Iraq, and raised questions about his bona fides -- which made neoconservative intelligence so disastrous.
In the real Iraq, the Shia masses were not secular -- and their likely political leaders should Saddam be toppled were Islamists with close links to Tehran. There were secular Shia, but many of these were in the Baath, which while in part an instrument of Sunni domination, was also identified with Iraqi nationalism. This was also true of the Army. Both the Baath and the Army were opposed to Iran -- and both would have been deeply reluctant to see exiles like Chalabi assume any meaningful role. So the close cooperation of Chalabi and Iranian intelligence was rooted in a genuine mutuality of interest.
To take advantage of the delusions of Jacobin liberalism to ensure that the Americans disbanded the Army and security forces, and prohibited members of the Baath from participating in politics, suited the Iranians and Chalabi alike. From the point of view of American interests in the Middle East, it was a disaster. In passing, we may note that it also did much to fuel the insurgency whose attacks on oil installations Erinys was called in to combat.
Much more could be said about the sheer oddity of a conceptions of a 'forward strategy' in which conmen like Chalabi or Berezovsky come to be seen as appropriate vehicles to make other societies 'liberal and democratic'. What cannot be claimed, however, is that these conceptions are simply the fig-leaves of cunning Machiavellians. In relation to their own societies, the neoconservatives and their British fellow-travellers may indeed be masterly manipulators. But their propensity to see alien societies through thick ideological filters makes them easy prey for conmen in their dealings with the wider world -- so that the actual outcomes of the strategies they advocate are highly liable to be quite different from those they envisage.
It is this vulnerability which is dramatised by the contrast between the Litvinenko's self-presentation as a virtuous whistleblower -- and his actual role as a cynical disinformation peddler. It has enabled Berezovsky to take a style of politics developed in the Russia of the Nineties, and transplant it with great success to Western Europe. The extent of the vulnerability of British elite opinion to conmen is, I suggest, central to understanding the Litvinenko affair -- and also one of its most disturbing lessons.