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Archive for February, 2004

Sunday, February 29th, 2004


It is becoming evident, at least to me at any rate, that after climbing on top of the tank during the August Coup, Boris Yeltsin’s most significant historical legacy will be his selection of Vladmir Putin as his successor as president of the Russian Federation. Putin, an ideologically ambiguous but highly capable former KGB colonel, has succeeded in consolidating Russia’s unstable post-Soviet government into a new and probably durable authoritarian system. ( Anne Applebaum holds a similar view) After the next presidential election, two weeks hence, Putin will be less Russia’s president than it’s Vozhd whose exercise of power will be checked mainly by his own methodical style and the extent to which Russia requires the goodwill of the West to prosper.

Previously, I blogged about Putin’s centralization of all security and intelligence agencies in his own hands to a degree not seen since the days of Stalin, an ominous act by the Russian government that went generally unremarked in the Western press. In addition to a bureaucratic stranglehold on the security apparatus, the recent elections for the Duma in December

have given Putin an overriding dominance of the legislature in addition to his already substantial constitutional powers as chief of the executive.

According to Richard Farkas of DePaul University, Putin now commands the loyalty of 350 members of the Duma, fifty more than required to amend the Russian Constitution ( which, being still unratified, is technically of nebulous legality). Moreover, the breakdown of the State Duma, which has seats allocated by a mix of ” Party” and ” nonpartisan” elections, is dominated by the authoritarian parties:


Total Ballots cast: 60, 712,299 ( 55 % of eligible registered voters)

UNITED RUSSIA ( Putin’s party) 37.57 % 120 seats

COMMUNIST ( KPRF) 12.61 % 40 seats

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT ( Fascist) 11.45 % 36 seats

RODINA ” Homeland ” ( Putin allies) 9.02 % 29 seats

The two democratic, pro-Western parties Yabloko and SPS each failed to get even 5 % of the vote, meaning they lose their party seats in the Duma and must meet exceptionally onerous ballot certification requirements that will make their participation in future elections as functioning political parties virtually impossible. They still can run candidates for the nominally ” nonpartisan ” seats. According to Farkas, while Zhirinovsky’s neofascist LD party is rhetorically critical of Putin, in the Duma the LD always votes with UR and Rodina, the latter of which Putin cronies hijacked and use to siphon off leftist protest votes from the Communists. Russian voters essentially will no longer have even a voice of democratic opposition, much less any democrats engaged in the exercise of power or policy.

Which makes the question ” What will Putin do with this unrivalled power over Russia ? ” a pressing one for American foreign policy.

Friday, February 27th, 2004


I’m away today attendfing a conference which has given me much to ruminate over this weekend – I’ve heard an academic analyzing the meaning of the latest election results in Russia and from a CFR fellow a discussion of America as ” The Lonely Empire ” and the evolution of our relationship with the EU. I’ll blog in detail on Sunday when I’ve collected my thoughts.


Hat tip to riting on the wall for the link and there will be some new additions to the blogroll coming soon.

Thursday, February 26th, 2004


In response to Buzzmachine, Jeff at Caerdroia has an interesting post on the two party system which you should go read first.

I found Jeff’s choice of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton as examples of presidents unable to rise above party to be intriguing and understandable. There are numerous, perhaps innumerable, examples of each man during their political careers acting in fundamentally groundbreaking ways to extend partisanship into heretofore nonpartisan or apolitical arenas.

Nixon’s use of impoundment, refusal to fill subcabinet posts to cripple hostile bureaucracies, his pioneering ( with political guru Murray Chotiner) of negative advertising all leap to mind ( The Watergate plumbers were hardly novel except in the sense that the FBI ” black bag jobs” that had been done for presidents by J.Edgar Hoover since at least FDR were privately outsourced by Nixon). On Clinton’s watch we see the wholesale sacking of the fifty U.S. Attorneys, the infamous White house coffees, the sale of presidential pardons, the ” war room ” operation to name just a few examples. In essence, both men as presidents were supremely partisan in the negative sense of attacking the other party, but were they ” positive partisans ” ? Did they do much of anything to help their own side ? I think the case can be made that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were with their party, not of their party and that of the two men, Clinton succeeded in this gambit where Nixon failed.

Nixon, at least as president, was entirely distant not only from the national party and the Congressional GOP but even from his own Republican appointees within his administration. An even casual perusal of the Haldeman Diaries or Stanley Kutler’s transcriptions of Nixon’s tapes in his Abuse of Power makes clear Nixon’s utter disdain for the intellectual and political abilities of his own allies. Richard Reeves has written a masterful profile of Nixon’s enormous analytical prowess operating in a self-imposed isolation, screened by Haldeman and Ehrlichman, scribbling ideas on yellow legal pads or conferring with Henry Kissinger or John Connally. The former of course was an Eastern Establishment professional intellectual and the latter a Democrat, supposedly the last kind of people the partisan anticommunist, Richard Nixon would choose to provide close counsel.

When he ran for re-election in 1972, Nixon’s association with the rest of the GOP was merely incidental – as he rolled up a historic landslide against George McGovern the party lost seats in Congress. Once ensconced in office Nixon demanded resignation letters from his entire cabinet and set about centralizing the executive branch decision making in his own hands, basically stiff-arming the Congress. Of course, when Nixon needed Congressional Republicans to weather Watergate, they deserted him and Goldwater led a delegation to tell Nixon to resign. In the aftermath of Watergate, the 1974 elections almost destroyed the GOP as a political party, all thanks to Nixon.

Bill Clinton’s presidency was almost as devastating to the Democrats but Clinton secured both loyalty and control over the party apparatus – a control that continues to this day. The fortunes of fellow Democrats and the party were almost completely subordinate to Clinton’s immediate political needs. The worst thing a political leader could do, according to Tip O’Neill, was to make someone cast a vote that would cost them the election. Clinton’s initial budget was passed by coercing a freshman Democrat into a vote that would-and did- result in her being a one term Congressman.

If Nixon and the GOP were like a married couple undergoing trial separation then the paradigm for the Democratic Party and Clinton was that of a battered wife and her abuser – addicted to his charm, fundraising prowess, fealty to abortion-rights and hatred of the Republicans. Nixon left office in disgrace; after costing his party the Congress and a majority of the governorships Clinton sits on a political empire. His creature, Terry McAuliffe is DNC chairman, his foundations and presidential library are flush with cash, Hillary is a senator from New York and two of the presidential candidates for the nomination came from his camp with Clinton’s advice and blessing. Even Herbert Hoover, a longtime GOP stringpuller from behind the scenes in retirement, never matched the power Bill Clinton wields over his party as an ex-president. He’s the most powerful and influential former president in American history.

Someday, we’ll see Bill Clinton back again in an overt role – perhaps as UN Secretary-General or First Husband to President Hillary or even in the Senate, probably in Tom Daschle’s job. Nixon, who was in five national elections and won four of them – a record I believe is matched only by FDR – cannot compare, he lacked not partisanship nor intellect nor will to power but the right kind personality.

Thursday, February 26th, 2004


Is a constitutional amendment to defend the sanctity of the Constitution. It might actually cause the government to follow it on occasion.

Thursday, February 26th, 2004


Reuters is pushing a story that the recent coup via a rigged election by the Khameini-Rafsanjani-Pasdaran hardline clique in Iran actually bodes well for a new era of detente between Iran and the United States.

It would be interesting to know who is leaking this analysis. I’m highly skeptical though I concede the dynamic is not theoretically impossible. Overall it strikes me as either wishful thinking or an attempt to push a reconsideration of current policy by someone on either side.

( Hey – three Nixon references in two days ! A new Zenpundit record ! )

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