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LETTERS

New Iron Curtain

Washington's Character

A French Mirror

Strawberry Fields

Advice & Consent

New Iron Curtain

Anatol Lieven's article "A New Iron Curtain" (January Atlantic) is a throwback to the Cold War. As during the age of Stalinism, Lieven wants to disenfranchise (to shut them up) the peoples in the zone between Russia and Europe. Lieven blames the victims of imperialism, not the imperialists. For him, the relationship between Russia and the West is one of geo- and power politics. With friends like Anatol Lieven, Russia needs no enemies. It was Russian ideology and imperialism living beyond their means, not Western weapons, conspiracy, or money, that bankrupted the Soviet Union. Instead of underwriting the Russian "right" to keep Russia's neighbors economically backward--and thus, also, Russia poor--a true friend would teach Russians moderation. Lieven is absolutely wrong in saying that Russians do not threaten their neighbors. They threaten even the West. The problem is that the threats, implied or direct, keep Western capital out of Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine and the Baltics. Nothing is gained by pretending that Russia is not economically backward or that the Russian state (hiding behind the "right to security") over the centuries has not committed horrendous atrocities on the peoples of Eastern Europe. A truly objective analyst of post-Soviet Eastern Europe would draw a difference between imperial states and colonized peoples.

Andrew Ezergailis

Anatol Lieven characterizes Westerners who support the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as political opportunists gunning for the Polish vote or as anti-Russian propagandists nostalgic for the Cold War. In so doing he squanders center court in The Atlantic Monthly on a bout with a straw man. Lieven demonstrates beyond any doubt that all Russian politicians oppose NATO's eastward enlargement and will hint at catastrophic consequences to dissuade the alliance from going ahead with its plans. Why is this the least bit surprising or revealing? In today's wounded, disillusioned Russia, no political figure with an ounce of savvy would miss a chance to impugn the motives of an alliance that stood in opposition to the motherland for four decades. If NATO does undertake a limited expansion, however, Russian leaders will have no choice but to accept it. Soon thereafter they will (quietly, perhaps) come to value it. In an enlarged NATO, Germany will have no need to pursue an independent security strategy in central Europe, the smaller nations of the region will be far less inclined to pick fights among themselves, and stable democracies and small, defensive armed forces under civilian control will be the norm to Russia's west. Lieven claims that an honest, coherent discussion in the West of the necessity for expansion has not occurred. Perhaps he was just not aware of it.

Gary L. Geipel

Andrew Ezergailis writes that I am "underwriting the Russian 'right' to keep Russia's neighbors economically backward." This is a willful misrepresentation of my position. As I wrote in my article, I am strongly in favor of the earliest possible membership in the European Union for both the Balts and the Visegrad countries. As I also wrote, one reason I oppose NATO expansion at present is precisely that I believe that the Western European governments are using it to distract the Eastern Europeans from what would be for them a much bigger prize. This is, of course, because the Western Europeans are terrified, owing to the internal changes they would have to carry out (reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, for example) in order to extend the European Union to the east.

Concerning Professor Ezergailis's suggestion that a supposed Russian security threat to Eastern Europe is keeping Western investment from the region, there is no evidence either for a real threat or for the myth of its having any effect on Western businessmen. Relations between Russia and Estonia have sometimes been strained in recent years, but this has not prevented Western capital from helping to make Estonia one of the great economic success stories of Eastern Europe. If other countries have lagged behind, it has been for their own internal reasons.

As for Gary Geipel, the differences between us are probably in the end rather slight. Like him, I strongly support the integration of Eastern and Western Europe, and I do not oppose the idea of NATO expansion at some stage in the future; I just don't see the need for it right now, when Russians are at their most nervous and resentful. I honestly believe that if we proceed cautiously, we can have both integration and a reasonably co-operative Russia. What's the flaming hurry?

Washington's Character

Amazing! Never mind that today discussions about ethnic and racial matters are commonplace, and that historians, looking to America's past, emphasize those themes. You run a piece ("A Man on Horseback,"by Richard Brookhiser, January Atlantic) on "the human qualities of George Washington, and what they say about 'character'"--a piece that utters not a word about the man's owning scores of slaves.

Not that the author didn't provide himself with opportunities. The Roman models for American republicans, after all, also owned slaves, and one wonders whether or not a man "tremendous in his wrath" ever visited that temper on his human chattel. Which of those 110 "Rules of Civility" did Washington observe when dealing with his slaves? If he avoided killing "vermin, or fleas, lice, ticks, etc. in the sight of others," did he also forbear mistreating the people who were his property, within or without the sight of others? And if manners "meant the graceful acknowledgment of others across social distances," how mannerly was he across the social gap between master and slave?

John D. Milligan

Anyone who writes about George Washington has to be mindful of his record of slave-owning. He certainly was. In the last twenty years of his life the topic was seldom far from his thoughts. He went so far as to propose selling Mount Vernon and hiring out its freed slaves as laborers. (The plan came to nothing, because there were no takers for a property with such bad soil.) He ended up freeing all his slaves in his will--something no other slave-owning President, including Jefferson, did. I discuss these and other aspects of Washington's slave-owning in my book Founding Father, from which the article was drawn.

A French Mirror

Hans Koning's article "A French Mirror" (December Atlantic) makes the case that the French are doing a good job of preparing for the future. Although I agree that the French have done well at preserving towns and cities and building an effective public-transportation system, most evidence I gathered from a year spent in France is that they are running themselves into a ditch.

Perhaps Koning has mistaken the lavish rhetoric of French public officials for vision. It is not. A 12 percent unemployment rate, a six percent federal deficit, shrinking disposable incomes, and sharpening ethnic strife suggest that France hasn't done a great job of looking ahead. The public school system is rigorous but negative and famously inflexible. Universities, while free, are training for jobs and a society that no longer exist. Retraining and continuing education are mostly nonexistent.

I must admit that it was refreshing--at least for a while--to live in a nation where the bottom line and the "private sector can do everything" mania are not running amok. But France's imperial executive bureaucracy, which continues to invest heavily in lost jobs to the detriment of new opportunities, is hardly more creative than our new revolutionaries who sing their age-old fantasies in dreary chorus. The troubles of our era call for innovative methods that neither ideologues here nor bureaucratic royalty there seems capable of generating. Though opposite in their prescriptions, both finally have one answer to all evils: more of the same.

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