Why Did the United States So Enthusiastically Support the Yeltsin Administration?
Paul Jay talks with Larry Wilkerson, part 8
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, now joining us is Larry Wilkerson. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here, Paul.
PAUL JAY: Okay, let’s do it. Here’s a question from Alfonso Fernandes: Why did the United States so enthusiastically support the Yeltsin administration during the worst of what he calls its atrocities?
LARRY WILKERSON: That’s a long, long answer that I don’t know everything about. What I do know about it is that when Yeltsin literally emulated Lenin and stood on or in front of that tank, and we made a decision not to join the generals, not to overthrow him, but to back him and to make sure everyone knew that, including those generals, and Yeltsin then put down the coup attempt and then became at least the titular at that time if not eventually the leader of a newly collapsed Soviet empire, now Russia, losing everything as fast as it could, I’ll never forget how fast the Warsaw Pact fell apart, that we didn’t have a whole lot of choice, except as George H.W. Bush spoke it at the time. Jim Baker carried this out to a letter.
That was essentially, “We are not going to exploit this. We’re not going to take advantage of it. We’re not going to do anything to stick our fingers in Soviet Russian eyes. We’re going to do as much as we can to support the leadership, although we know it drinks a bottle of vodka about every hour. We’re going to do everything we can to take this situation turn out peacefully,” to include inviting Russia to be an observer of NATO, with every expectation it would eventually probably be asked to be a member of NATO, including when we reunified Germany and kept it in NATO, the most incredible diplomatic achievement of the latter 20th century, saying to Moscow, “If you accept this, we’ll not move NATO one inch further east.” Then along came Bill Clinton, of course, and moved it all the way to Georgia or almost. Those were troubled times, but I think H.W. Bush handled it extremely well, and Jim Baker, and all the rest of that administration. I think they handled it extremely well. Brent Scowcroft was right there in the middle of it.
Then along came Bill Clinton and a very inexperienced team. I was there. I was still working for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the first year of Clinton. The most inexperienced team I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t find their ass in a windstorm that first year, indeed for the first 18 months. Everything went to heck, as we enlarged NATO, largely to sell F-16s and other arms to more and more countries, and make Lockheed and Boeing and everybody else much richer, and largely to, in very apoplectic terms, stick our fingers in Moscow’s eyes. We did it in the Balkans. We embarrassed Boris Yeltsin majorly in the Balkans. We had Major General Sir Michael Jackson I think it was Pristina in Kosovo, being ordered by Wes Clark to stop the Russian paratroopers. Jackson had the good sense to say back, “I’m not about to start World War Three, general.” These were troubled times with inexperienced people dealing with them.
We made a mess of things, and we’ve been making a mess of things ever since.
PAUL JAY: We were talking a little earlier about Putin’s motivation in Kosovo and otherwise. Is it true for Russia, and for the United States, that to a large extent this is all about domestic politics? Maybe that’s true with most foreign policy. It starts with domestic politics. Certainly in the United States, this seems to be more about domestic politics than any real concern about what Russia’s doing in various places.
LARRY WILKERSON: I think the Russian foreign minister, when Trump failed to certify to the U.S. Congress that Iran was still in compliance with the nuclear agreement, the German foreign minister said, “This is all domestic politics. It’s become a plaything of domestic politics.” I think he used the word I think, or it is apparently, or something like that, but he summed it up. You’re right. One of the elements of my framework of analysis for my students in determining why certain national security decisions were made is domestic politics. I will tell you that we look at both the United States and whomever it happens to be, Chile in 1968, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and so forth, we look at them too from the point of view of politics. I can say with some accuracy, I think, that domestic politics drives democracies nuts far more than it does totalitarian states. In the case of the United States of America, with our rather unwieldy democracy, it really does impact foreign and security policy, sometimes in very, very injurious ways.