Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Revisiting a Russian forecast for America

Today 10 people living in the United States were arrested by the FBI and charged with being unregistered foreign agents -- essentially, spying for the Russians. Some of these operatives were apparently under deep cover, living and working in the United States for years at a time with no hint of their real identities.

The timing of the arrests was called into question coming so soon after President Obama met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, an obvious sign of the continuing thaw between Washington and Moscow (which begs the question: if the timing of this disclosure was suspect, what about the actions that made the disclosure possible?).

This revival of the Cold War days brings something else to mind just long enough to dismiss it, maybe for good. It was about a year and a half ago when an eminent Russian political scientist and darling of the Kremlin put forth a proposition as badly timed and ill-conceived, as the people caught today on the wrong side of the law, and, possibly, history.

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Set the wayback machine to Dec. 29, 2008, when Igor Panarin, a Russian military analyst and dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats, was interviewed by Andrew Osborn in the Wall Street Journal.

In the Osborn interview, Panarin circled back to a prediction he had been making for about a decade, fearlessly forecasting that the United States would "disintegrate" this summer, in an ethical and economic collapse that resulted from a civil war and whose outcome this month would fragment the United States into six easily conquerable pieces.

From Osborn's story: "Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control."

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Panarin got specific, spelling out the details of his scenario with the zeal of a screenwriter pitching a script: Trends in demographics and economic circumstances would provoke a vast political and social crisis. Wealthier American states would withhold funds from the U.S. treasury and, for all purposes, secede from the union. Untold and violent social unrest would ensue, followed by the partitioning of the country.

China would assume some measure of control over California, much the way Beijing casts a shadow over Hong Kong. Hawaii would face the same fate at the hands of either China or Japan. Texas would fall under Mexican influence. New York and Washington would form the basis for Atlantic America, the collection of states that would be subsumed into the European Union. Canada would acquire control of a group of northern states to be renamed the Central North American Republic. And Alaska would return to the former status as part of Russia.

Got all that? Oh, and don't forget, all 300 million odd Americans would gain full employment by working in the spice mines for the rulers of the planet Arrakis.

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Panarin's dire vision fails with just about any brush up against common sense. Why, for example, would wealthier states hold onto money due the federal government and then secede from the union? The act of secession suggests a lack of faith in the country you're seceding from, and (presumably) its currency too.

But it gets worse. Panarin's forecast presupposes that stubborn American regional identities would roll over and play dead, rather than coalesce in an effort to repel the invader.

ShShShock noted in December 2008: "The idea, for example, of Canada taking control of a portion of the United States as far south as Missouri assumes Canada has a military strong enough, 18 months from now, to drive a thousand miles into the interior of this country without a serious fight. Canada has a standing armed forces of about 87,000 active and reserve personnel. There's more than that many people in Fargo, N.D., alone." Canada, invading the States? Bring it.

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Now as then, Panarin's conjurings fail to take into account the ways the American economy and the Russian economy are forever intertwined, in no small part by the innately human drive for status and leisure reflected in both economies seeking to bring more ... things to their people. Washington and Moscow are stuck in a global economic moment they can't get out of.

And Panarin's forecast for the literal balkanization of the United States completely overlooks what people will do to remain the masters of their own fates.

The lessons of Napoleon (crushed in his attempt to rule Russia) and Hitler (rebuffed, albeit at great price, by the dogged will of the Russian people) are instructive. It's curious how a student of U.S. economies and a doctor of political science could have overlooked them.

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Of course, it's possible -- and maybe even probable -- that Panarin wasn't serious about his predictions; it may all have been a stalking horse for Russian geopolitical initiatives yet to emerge. Maybe the forecast was just an attempt to embarrass then President-elect Obama, at that time three weeks from taking office. Or perhaps it was nothing more than a Kremlinologist's dream, a wish his KGB-trained heart made.

Maybe the good doctor knew about the 10 people arrested today.

Whatever his motivations and his rationale, it's safe to say that unless the Canadian Army is driving deep into Idaho and tanks from the Mexican Army are blowing holes into the fences and walls on the southern border ... Panarin got this one wrong.

For all his scholarly study of American economics and American politics, Prof. Panarin needs to hit the books and bone up on the chapters about American resilience. What was observed in December 2008 is true today: "[W]hen survival and identity are at stake, never underestimate the ability of a nation's people to be the people of a Nation."

Even taking into account the various ways in which American society has splintered and reconfigured along harshly partisan political lines, even considering the economic free-fall everyday people find themselves in (in no small part due to the economic free-for-all Wall Street enjoyed a while back), the United States is very much still free, and standing. Thanks for playing, professor.

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