embrace him as the Dear Leader, an austere man with a steel spine
summoned by destiny to defend the Homeland. Millions of others
consider him an incipient tyrant, a figurehead representing a
corrupt system. Many initially regarded his ascent to power as
illegitimate, the result of appointment rather than election.
But those misgivings were subdued after the deadly terrorist attacks
that struck the nation the following September.
Some of the
Leader's bolder domestic critics, carefully scrutinizing the evidence,
accused the government of having prior knowledge of the terrorist
plot. In any case, the Leader and his advisers certainly capitalized
on the event. The power of the presidency was radically expanded,
the security agencies were unleashed, police agencies were brought
more fully under the central government's control, and extra-judicial
interrogation tactics — including torture — quietly received official
Just as alarmingly,
the president himself became the centerpiece of a cult of personality.
Despite a questionable personal background, the president's supporters
are firmly convinced that he is a sincere Christian devoted to
defending the faith. Frequently seen in the company of military
personnel, the president has been cast as a crusading warrior.
One particularly memorable photo-op depicted the president at
the controls of a military jet.
Is this a
brief sketch of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or of U.S. President
George W. Bush?
Bush, "ex"-KGB officer Vladimir Putin's ascent to office
was marked by irregularities. He was appointed Prime Minister
by Russia's then-President Boris Yeltsin in August 1999. A month
later, hundreds of Russian citizens were killed in terrorist bombings
of residential buildings. The resulting public outrage not only
re-ignited Russia's war in Chechnya, it also offered Putin — who
assumed the presidency following Yeltsin's January 2000 resignation
– a pretext to proclaim a "dictatorship of the law."
With an early
presidential election called for May 2000, Russia's state-controlled
media, working in tandem with the Kremlin's image-makers, relentlessly
defamed Putin's opponents, and began to build a cult of personality
around the dour KGB careerist. This was an astounding accomplishment,
given that Putin — who looks as if he could be Gollum after an
unsuccessful makeover — has no discernible personality.
to Kremlin propagandist Gleb Pavlovsky, Putin was successfully
re-cast in the role of "Stirlitz," a "dashing fictional
KGB officer" from post -World War II propaganda films. The
Russian public was regularly treated to "macho photo ops,"
such as Putin at the controls of a fighter plane, or handing out
hunting knives to Russian troops on the Chechen front.
For all the
superficial parallels that can be drawn between Mssrs. Putin and
Bush, they made an oddly matched pair during their February 24
meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia. After all, it could be said,
one of them heads an increasingly authoritarian and lawless government
that is pursuing a radical vision of global revolution rooted
in the teachings of the Soviet Union's founders. The other is
merely the president of the Russian Federation.
tenet of the Soviet dictatorship, declared the regime's founding
dictator Vladimir Lenin, was "power without limit, resting
directly on force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted
by rules." The Bush administration has made extravagant claims
of presidential power – to wage war abroad, to imprison "unlawful
combatants" without trial both here and abroad, and to authorize
the use of torture — that are in harmony with Lenin's political
specimen of the Bush administration’s neo-Leninism is found in
a September 21, 2001 Justice Department memorandum written by
Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Yoo. In that brief,
Yoo claimed that it was impermissible for Congress to "place
any limits on the President’s determinations as to any terrorist
threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or
the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions
… are for the President alone to make.”
February 18 interview with Belgium's VRT television network, Mr.
Bush invoked that dictatorial doctrine with reference to a possible
war with Iran: “You never want a president to say never, but military
action is certainly not, is never the president’s first choice.
Diplomacy is always the president’s – or at least my – first
choice.” Under the U.S. Constitution, which vests the power to
declare war exclusively in Congress, that "choice" is
never the president's to make.
are also indebted to Soviet founder Leon Trotsky for the doctrine
of "permanent revolution," through direct military intervention
as well as support to surrogate movements in targeted countries
— in the name of defeating "oppression," naturally.
The shade of Trotsky could very well have ghost-written Mr. Bush's
declaration that "it is the policy of the United States to
seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions
in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending
tyranny in our world."
countries over which they preside, George W. Bush and Vladimir
Putin are very different. But as with the mutant pig-men creatures
described at the end of Orwell's Animal
Farm, it's becoming difficult to distinguish between post-Soviet
Russia and pre-Soviet America.