Russian "Communists" Back in Power
Jude Wanniski
September 17, 1998


Memo To: William Safire
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Helping Russia Succeed

Your column in this morning's NYTimes complains about Boris Yeltsin's choice of Yevgeni Primakov as the new prime minister, on the grounds that Primakov was a high-ranking Communist who brought the Old Guard back into power. You report that you called Gregory Yavlinsky, whom you consider to be a liberal reformer, and chewed him out for supporting Primakov in the Duma. Yes, Russia would like the oil prices to rise so its revenues from oil exports could increase, but you go overboard in reminding Yavlinsky that Primakov wants to lift the sanctions on Iraq, which will cause Iraqi oil to flow, thereby keeping the oil price from rising.

First, Bill, I am dismayed that you should suggest Russia's policy toward Iraq should be based on its desire to keep it from selling oil so that its own revenue position would be enhanced. Why not suggest that Russia send teams of terrorists into Saudi Arabia to blow up its oil fields? Or Texas? Had you heard, Bill, that 1.5 million Iraqi civilians have died in the last seven years because of the policy you have promoted starving Iraqi civilians in hopes they would topple Saddam Hussein? Having read so many of your recent columns on how President Clinton has lost his moral compass, I cringed when I read of your appeal to Yavlinsky this morning.

Second, I'm sure you remember the lunch we had at the Army-NavyClub in Washington seven years ago, when I asked for your support in helping the Gorbachev government successfully convert from communism to a capitalist economy. At the invitation of the Gorbachev government, I'd been to Moscow with then-Federal Reserve Governor Wayne Angell in September 1989, on exactly that mission. Do you remember you told me that you did not wish Gorbachev to succeed, that you preferred that the Soviet economy get sufficiently bad that it would cause the collapse of the Soviet Union and its splintering into bits and pieces? You were not alone, of course. I asked several of my old Cold War colleagues to help me on my Russia project, and the answer was always the same: To hell with Moscow. Grind them into the dust. I distinctly remember telling you at our lunch that your attitude was the same as that which underlay the Versailles Treaty, which aimed at grinding Germany into the dust and that out of that attitude came Hitler.

In fact, Bill, we not only refused Moscow's request for our help in converting to democratic capitalism, but also we purposely gave them the advice that has driven them into the dust. The vast majority of the Russian people now live more miserable lives than they did under Khruschev, Brezhnev, Andropov, or Gorbachev. Why should you be surprised that the misery you have helped promote is now driving the masses back to communism? You should keep your fingers crossed that they stop at Primakov and are not forced on a path to Stalin. The "Old Guard" economic team Primakov has brought back to power is the team that wanted my help in 1990 in finding a path to capitalism that would not require "shock therapy."