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Gorbachev on His Legacy, and Obama's Chance to Lead an American Perestroika

The former Soviet leader on his push for a peaceful dissolution of the Russian empire, and his idea that the US should follow suit.

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In Yeltsin, Washington ended up with a vassal who thought that because of his anticommunism he would be carried in their arms. Delegations came to Russia one after the other, including President Bill Clinton, but then they stopped coming. It turned out no one needed Yeltsin. But by then half of Russia's industries were in ruins, even 60 percent. It was a country with a noncompetitive economy wide open to the world market, and it became slavishly dependent on imports.

How many things were affected! All our plans for a new Europe and a new architecture of mutual security. It all disappeared. Instead, it was proposed that NATO's jurisdiction be extended to the whole world. But then Russia began to revive. The rain of dollars from higher world oil prices opened up new possibilities. Industrial and social problems began to be solved. And Russia began to speak with a firm voice, but Western leaders got angry about that. They had grown accustomed to having Russia just lie there. They thought they could pull the legs right out from under her whenever they wanted.

The moral of the story--and in the West morals are everything--is this: under my leadership, a country began reforms that opened up the possibility of sustained democracy, of escaping from the threat of nuclear war, and more. That country needed aid and support, but it didn't get any. Instead, when things went bad for us, the United States applauded. Once again, this was a calculated attempt to hold Russia back. I am speaking heatedly, but I am telling you what happened.

KVH/SFC: But now Washington is turning to Moscow for help, most urgently perhaps in Afghanistan. Exactly twenty years ago, you ended the Soviet war in Afghanistan. What lessons did you learn that President Obama should heed in making his decisions about Afghanistan?

MG: One was that problems there could not be solved with the use of force. Such attempts inside someone else's country end badly. But even more, it is not acceptable to impose one's own idea of order on another country without taking into account the opinion of the population of that country. My predecessors tried to build socialism in Afghanistan, where everything was in the hands of tribal and clan leaders, or of religious leaders, and where the central government was very weak. What kind of socialism could that have been? It only spoiled our relationship with a country where we had excellent relations during the previous twenty years.

Even today, I am criticized that it took three years for us to withdraw, but we tried to solve the problem through dialogue--with America, with India, with Iran and with both sides in Afghanistan, and we attended an international conference. We didn't simply hitch up our trousers and run for it, but tried to solve the problem politically, with the idea of making Afghanistan a neutral, peaceful country. By the way, when we were getting ready to pull out our troops and were preparing a treaty of withdrawal, what did the Americans do? They supported the idea of giving religious training to young Afghans--that is, the Taliban. As a result, now they are fighting against them. Today, again, not just America and Russia can be involved in solving this problem. All of Afghanistan's neighbors must be involved. Iran cannot be ignored, and it's ill-advised for America not to be on good terms with Iran.

KVH/SFC: Finally, a question about your intellectual-political biography. One author called you "the man who changed the world." Who or what most changed your own thinking?

 
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