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Oct 11

Written by: Diana West
Sunday, October 11, 2015 8:25 AM 

One thing The Death of the Grown-Up (2007) does is revisit the post-9/11 fate of Western civ as defended (or not) by its own leaders, beginning, perhaps unexpectedly, with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. The Italian prime minister's spirited declamation in favor of "Western values" in the aftermath of the 2001 Islamic attacks was, shall we say, not well-received in the West. Indeed, European leaders swiftly and widely attacked Berlusconi, demanding that he instead pay homage to "universial values." The "universal values" slogan would be much pressed by George W. Bush and Tony Blair throughout their terms of office.

American Betrayal (2013), the "prequel" to The Death of the Grown-Up, revisits this same theme, I realize, by returning to a historicial point in 1989 when George H. W. Bush abandoned "Western" for "universal" values after his first discussions with Soviet dictator Gorbachev and his Party line man Yakovlev.

Below, in an excerpt from American Betrayal, are some of the relevant exchanges: 

Just a few years later at Malta, Gorbachev gave voice to this same familiar fiction. “Some are beginning to speak about the ‘Bush doctrine,’ that is replacing the ‘Brezhnev doctrine,’ Gorbachev declared in 1989.”43 The implication was, this was equally bad: that is, if the Brezhnev doctrine was out, the so-called Bush doctrine should be out, too. George H. W. Bush failed to disagree. The forty-first American president’s response was to reassure Gorbachev he would not be jumping “up onto the [Berlin] Wall” to hasten German reunification.

To which Gorbachev replied, “Well, jumping on the Wall is not a good activity for a president.”

Transcript: “Laughter.”44

In a later Malta session, Gorbachev again returned to this pet Soviet peeve: “I am under the impression that U.S. leaders are now quite actively advancing the idea of conquering the division of Europe on the basis of ‘Western values.’ ”45

Again, by “the division of Europe” Gorbachev meant the Soviet-usurped sovereignty of about one dozen nation-states. “Conquering” that “division” is Politburo-speak for introducing rule of law, freedom of speech, and other “Western values” in place of rule by threat and thugocracy.

Gorbachev continued, “If this premise is not solely for propaganda purposes, and they are intending to make it the basis for practical policy, then I will say bluntly that they are committing many follies. At one time in the West there was anxiety that the Soviet Union was planning to export revolution. But the aim of exporting ‘Western values’ sounds similar.”

Soviet revolution (police state) vs. Western values (Bill of Rights): What’s the diff?

The phrase “Western values” popped up in the American briefing books for Malta, so maybe Gorbachev’s attack triggered something in the president’s cranial nooks. Bush said, “What are Western values? They are, if you will, free speech, openness, lively debates. In the economic realm—stimulus for progress, a free market. These values are not something new, or of the moment . . . They unite the West. We welcome changes in [the USSR and Eastern Europe] but by no means set them against Western values.”

Mild, but something at least. The Soviet ruler, however, was not assuaged. In fact, what already feels like heat on the transcript page seems to intensify. Gorbachev hotly interjected a question from his chief Marxist-Leninist theorist: “A. N. Yakovlev is asking: Why are democracy, openness, [free] market ‘Western values’ ”?

As with Gorbachev and his reflexive denial of Lend-Lease, it’s quite likely that Politburo member Yakovlev—a collective-farm boy who became a Marxist- Leninist ideologist and propagandist, head of the Communist Party propaganda department, and, later, Central Committee secretary of ideological matters— didn’t know, couldn’t know, the correct answer. It’s possible that as a Communist propagandist he was ill equipped to trace the history of liberty in the Western world as the precious legacy of Greece and Rome, of Judaism and Christianity. Because Yakovlev, post Gorbachev, would later work to excavate the hidden toll of Soviet state crime and human suffering (atonement?), would that it were possible to interview him about this historic exchange; he died in 2005. In 1989, however, there was his question, tossing George H. W. Bush a golden educational, if not also political, softball.

Did the American president pull out a well-worn pocket edition of the Declaration of Independence and begin reading aloud?

When, Gorby, in the course of human events . . .

Or tell the Soviets the story of the English barons who in 1215 instituted rule of law by forcing the Magna Carta on tyrannical King John?

Many centuries ago, Comrade Yakovlev, in a place called Runnymede . . .

None of the above, naturally. Instead:

Bush: It was not always that way. You personally created a start for these changes directed toward democracy and openness. Today it is really much clearer than it was, say, 20 years ago that we share these values with you.

Gorbachev: There is no point in entering into propaganda battles.

Yakovlev: When you insist on “Western values,” then “Eastern values” unavoidably appear, and “Southern values” . . .

Gorbachev: Exactly. And when that happens, ideological confrontations flare up again.

Bush: I understand and I agree. Let us try to avoid careless words and talk more about the content of these values. From the bottom of our hearts we welcome the changes that are taking place [emphasis added].

Those “careless words” Bush abandoned so readily stood for precise and precious facts—the truth. In the face of conflict—a Commie hissy fit—the president of the United States negotiated away that truth in exchange for Moscow’s false narrative.

From the bottom of our hearts, Bush surrendered the core principles that distinguished the American republic from the “union” (vise) of “Soviet” “socialist” ones (dictatorships). In other words, Bush there and then gave away the store. In this first meeting of wasted East and robust West since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bush conceded to Gorbachev the right to set all parameters of discussion, to control the language itself, and, therefore, crucial historical and political understandings of events. Of course, to be fair, Bush was merely sealing the deal, offering yet another extension of the legitimacy with which the United States had endowed the criminal Communist enterprise since official relations began. Gorbachev had won again. He replied:

That is very important. You see, as I said, the most important thing is that the changes lead to greater openness even in our relations with each other. We are beginning to become organically integrated, freeing ourselves from everything that divided us. What will this be called in the final analysis? I think it is a new level of relations. For that reason, for my part, I support your proposal; let us not conduct the discussion at the levels of the Church. In history this has always led to religious wars [emphasis added].

Big difference: The tragedy of religious wars within “the Church” was that all combatants worshipped the same deity. This is not the case with Communism and the West. Communism enshrines the state. The West, according to its central principles, protects the rights of the individual. There is nothing that the West—or at least the individual—gains by blurring this distinction in order to worship at a phony altar with dictators.

None of this mattered to George H. W. Bush. The day after the Malta meet- ing, Bush channeled his “new” U.S.-USSR understanding in an address at NATO headquarters in Brussels. He duly emphasized that “the end to the unnatural division of Europe and Germany” should “proceed in accordance with and be based upon the values that are becoming universal ideals.”46 There was no talk, no mention, of “Western values.”

In the end, Gorbachev would fail to retain Soviet power; nonetheless, he had successfully averted a crucial “Western” victory over the seven-decade-long ideological catastrophe the USSR had inflicted on the whole world, both free and unfree. 

[End of excerpt.]

This was 1989.

Nearly twenty years later, Bush 41, Gorbachev and Yakovlev were, of course, out, the Soviet Union had fallen regrouped and rebranded, but "universal,"  and not Western values, were still very much in -- in the United States government and other capitals of the West. While I have written about this last piece of it all in The Death of the Grown-Up it occurred to me today to put these points on a timeline to better see the discussion as a continuum.

To recap:

1989 -- Bush 41 agrees to Kremlin demands to recast Western values as generic values -- and then brings them to NATO as  "universal values."

2001 -- After the 9/11 attacks, Berlusconi gives a ringing endorsement of "Western values" and is attacked, and ultimately renegs (and worse). Going forward, as they say, the post-9/11 battle narrative, from Bush 43 to Obama, is officially regarded as a war between "universal" values and "extremism."

I recently came across an address on the economy Bush 43 delilvered in 2008, after which he took some questions. Finding himself defending his guiding beliefs in borderlessness in trade and interventionism, he wandered into this confusing but revealing whirl of ideas, some of them related:

I'm troubled by isolationism and protectionism. As a matter of fact, I dedicated part of my State of the Union address a couple of years ago to this very theme. And what concerns me is, is that the United States of America will become fatigued when it comes to fighting off tyrants, or say it's too hard to spread liberty, or use the excuse that just because freedom hadn't flourished in parts of the world, therefore it's not worth trying, and that, as a result, we kind of retrench and lose confidence in our -- the values that have made us a great nation in the first place.

But these aren't American values; they're universal values. And the danger of getting tired during this world [sic] is any retreat by the America -- by America was going to be to the benefit of those who want to do us harm. ...

In historical context, this feels almost like a prompt, a "messaging" point, a piece of cant W. dutifully underscores to reenforce the narrative. Hey, remember, these are universal, not American values (phew, I almost messed up). Like father, like son ... like Gorbachev, like Yakovlev.

Of course, it is jarring at first. But convergence is like that. It gets everything on the same page. 

Except "Western" values.

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