Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Mikhail Gorbachev’s Legacy Was Squandered. Now We’re All Paying the Price.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation, remembers the Russian leader—whom she called a friend—as a committed pro-peace thinker, on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence."
Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Katrina vanden Heuvel. [The Nation Magazine]

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Mikhail Gorbachev, who died at the age of 91 on August 30, was “perhaps the most radical thinker about security to ever lead a major power,” writes Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Nation, the progressive magazine where the journalist serves as editorial director and publisher. In the deeply moving piece, where vanden Heuvel describes her personal relationship to the man who called both her and her late husband—the unparalleled scholar of Russian history, Stephen Cohen—his “true friends,” she considers the former Russian leader’s legacy as “a great reformer in his country’s tormented history.”  Vanden Heuvel, who is not only fluent in Russian and studied Russian history at Princeton University but has lived in the Soviet Union and Russia, joins Robert Scheer on the latest edition of “Scheer Intelligence” to expand on her Nation piece and the consequences of the squandering of Gorbachev’s legacy. 

In a wide-ranging conversation where neither of them shy away from the complexities of the Cold War, Scheer and vanden Heuvel recount the time they spent together in Moscow in 1987 as the then-Los Angeles Times correspondent Scheer was on loan to Moskovskie Novosti (Moscow News), where vanden Heuvel also worked in 1989. The country they describe taking shape under Gorbachev’s extraordinary vision for a peaceful future for both Russia and the rest of the world is one that, tragically, is no more. As The Nation publisher puts it, his “historic achievements” were undermined not only by Russians like his successors Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, but by U.S. and other Western leaders profoundly disinterested in giving peace a chance. After writing that NATO’s eastward expansion was a “stab in Gorbachev’s back,” vanden Heuvel shares with Scheer her fears that the ongoing war in Ukraine is further confining the former Russian leader’s revolutionary work towards nuclear disarmament to the “dustbin of history,” to borrow a phrase from Leon Trotsky. 

The brinkmanship in which the U.S., Russia, and other nuclear powers are currently engaged —the kind that Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending—could lead us down an apocalyptic path, the two journalists warn. The antidote, vanden Heuvel argues, is a strong peace movement in the U.S. and around the globe and pro-peace leaders following in the radical footsteps of Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Olof Palme, and others. Listen to the full conversation between vanden Heuvel and Scheer as they consider all the world has lost in losing Gorbachev—both in 1991 and 2022. 

Credits

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Transcript

Robert Scheer:

Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guest, in this case, one of the great figures, actually, in journalism in America, Katrina vanden Heuvel, who for the longest time, has been involved with The Nation magazine as editor in chief. Now she’s the executive editor and publisher.

The Nation magazine, for people who don’t know it, is the oldest continuously published political journal in the United States. Goes back to Civil War days. Katrina has kept it alive for decades as a vital organ and I’ve asked her to come today because the two of us crossed paths when Gorbachev, Mikhail Gorbachev had just taken power. I was there in ’87, I think, the first time we met there, and he had taken power in 1985. Then, of course, he was kicked out of power six years later.

Katrina wrote a piece for The Nation magazine, which I think we haven’t paid enough attention to Gorbachev’s significance. But she had a piece this last week where she talks about what a historic opportunity that was and that basically,it was blown and that’s one of the reasons why or the main reason why we’re now considering, we’re in de facto, or in reality a war with Russia with the possibility even of nuclear war.

I’ll let you set the stage. You were there. You were a Russian speaker. You studied the subject at Princeton. You were married to a great expert on Russia and on the Soviet Union, Steve Cohen, probably the most important expert we’ve had, so set the stage.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

The stage, so as your listeners may know, Gorbachev came to power in March 1985, and he came after a series of stagnant leaders. I mean, there was Brezhnev, and then Andropov, and then Chernenko, who literally was working out of his hospital room. It was not clear that Gorbachev would be the leader. He was 53. Gromyko said when he was appointed, Gorbachev was, that he has a nice smile and steel teeth, iron teeth.

It could have been the Romanov, who was the Communist Party secretary in Leningrad, Saint Petersburg, but he had thrown China at the wall at his daughter’s wedding a week before the appointment, so he didn’t get it, but more important, Gorbachev comes into power. It’s not immediate. As you said, Bob, you were there in 1987, but very quickly, you could see this was a different kind of leader.

He was interested in democratization. I don’t mean just petty markers along the way, but he wanted to open up a society through two great reforms at home. One, perestroika, the other glasnost. Perestroika restructuring was an attempt to open up a socialist market economy, but it was a very tough, tough move. Gorbachev really cared about glasnost, and opening up the kind of … Ending the censorship, rolling back the censorship. He did care about moving to elections and parliaments, and I think for the first time in 1,000 years of Russian history, you did have the passage of executive power via election, and that too has been squandered.

What I think remains important and shouldn’t be consigned to the foreign international field was this was the most committed, not just arms reductionist, but thinker about national security, thinker about abolition of nuclear weapons, understanding a different kind of common security, human security, and speaking out against the militarization of Europe from Russia, Vladivostok, to Lisbon, and Portugal, and seeking after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, that there’d be a peaceful, common European home.

In that context, he was horrified, as you are Bob, in these last years, as the arms race, as he put it, metastasized and it was a colossal loss of sanity as one arms control treaty … Arms control, we’re not talking disarmament, was rolled back. De-democratization, and I’ll stop here, which many attribute to Putin, de-democratization of Russia is something Gorbachev looked at at his country and really understood that Boris Yeltsin, who was overly-acclaimed in this country, had presided over the looting of a country, a devastation, impoverishment of a country.

He and Yeltsin really disliked each other. Though I don’t believe in men make history, you can argue that the liquidation of the Soviet Union, I don’t call it the collapse, maybe the abolition, was contributed to by one man, a great reformer for change, and the other, someone who had a will to power, Boris Yeltsin, who would never have appeared if glasnost and perestroika had not been policies.

In any case, there was a triumphalism at the end of the Cold War, which Gorbachev and sane people in Europe and this country understood would take us back as we are now in not simply a cold war, but a hot war. In that context, Gorbachev regretted how the West, in a way, refused to … To be triumphalist and not understand that we either all won with the end of the Cold War, not squandering trillions on weapons, or we all lost and we should find new ways to engage and live.

Robert Scheer:

Yeah. Hopefully, not blow up the world while we’re trying to find a way. For people listening to this, we have a short view of history, and I want to assure people, if they have any doubt about the significance of Gorbachev’s intentions, of his thinking, they should pick up his book, Perestroika, which I reviewed in The Moscow News, but I also reviewed for the Los Angeles Times, where I was working.

I reviewed it sitting in the old National Hotel, because I’d gotten a copy while I was in Moscow. I was blown away by that book then, back when I wrote that in ’87, but I also was blown away rereading it after Gorbachev’s death this week at the age, I believe, 91.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

That’s right.

Robert Scheer:

I didn’t know Gorbachev the way you did. You met with him, you talked with him-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yes.

Robert Scheer:

… often, and you are a legitimate expert on Russian history.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

No, Yeah.

Robert Scheer:

Don’t be modest on me now, and I am not. I’ve been in Russia a lot of. I first went there in the early ’60s. I tried, but as many journalists, I parachuted in, I spent some time. In that case, I spent two months. You’ve lived your life, ever since your days at Princeton.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

That’s right.

Robert Scheer:

You married a key expert, Steve Cohen. I mean, there’s no one who could carry that guy’s luggage intellectually, and wrote this very famous book on Bukharin, understood the complexity of what was going on. I want to make it clear to people, if you read what Gorbachev laid out for the world to read and his own people, he said the system had failed and could not just be patched up.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

That’s right.

Robert Scheer:

The reason he pushed for glasnost, openness, was that the bureaucracy would smother anything less.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Any new ideas, yeah.

Robert Scheer:

So this was, the reason I want to do the interview, very rarely in human history do we get a leader of a powerful nation who has great power and can certainly ensure his survival for some time saying, “You know what? It’s not working. We have to fundamentally change it.” And what I’d like for you to do is talk about the reaction of the Russian people.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

All right, so let me just …

Robert Scheer:

Many of them didn’t like that, and he-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I know.

Robert Scheer:

… became quite unpopular. Right?

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Of course  he did at home, and there were reasons for it. There are big reasons. I will say, Bob, Perestroika is one of his many books, important book. We have a bookshelf of Gorbachev’s writings, and he never deviated or veered from the idea of the importance of reform. He was not … I mean, he is a radical in many ways, but he was a reformist. I want to just locate, for a moment, the end of the Soviet Union, as we were talking about. Steve, my late husband, went through many of what he called the questions of the century about why the Soviet Union ended. As I said, it has not been understood.

Gorbachev, and I’ve just been rereading his last speech to the Supreme Soviet in August, end of August 1991, after the coup. He fought hard to keep the Union together. He sought for a socialist democracy, a democratic socialism. He was, in so many fundamental ways, a social democrat. If you have one Communist Party, Bob, one party, we see it with the Democratic Party. I don’t know what we see with the Republican right now, but there were people who emerged from that party, Gorbachev, Alexander Yakovlev.

Many of the people Steve and I interviewed in Voices of Glasnost: Interviews With Gorbachev’s Reformers … Because a great leader has a brain trust, and Gorbachev had a great brain trust, especially on international, and on glasnost issues. The economy, there were many debates, Bob, and you know this, about why didn’t Mikhail Gorbachev begin as in China? You begin with the economy. You don’t begin with political democracy, opening up a society.

It’s a long story, but the roots of how those two countries were collectivized permitted China to begin with the economy. Russia was much more difficult because of the Stalinist collectivization program. There were attempts, they failed. There was anger on the part of people who were lining up, and then there was a bad anti-alcohol campaign.

I will say today, I sat at Novaya Gazeta, which is the independent called New Newspaper, which Gorbachev invested his Nobel Peace Prize money, much of it, in the future of this independent muckraking newspaper. The young journalists, 20s, young, early 20s, who are doing investigative reporting under great threat today, difficulties as in many countries, saw in Gorbachev, who sat at the table talking to them, someone who had allowed them to life a life and to lead a life they now did.

Let me just finish with the economy. Gorbachev found Steve’s great biography, Bukharin, Nikolai Bukharin and political revolution … Bukharin was killed in the purge trials, and the purges, Stalin’s purges in 1938, but Bukharin offered an alternative, new economic program. Many countries today, smaller countries like Cuba or Vietnam, are looking for how to combine a market below like shoe repair, or restaurants, or small hotels, and the commanding heights, utilities, railroads are more nationalized as in parts of Europe. It was that model that has been suppressed.

It was in the ’20s, and Gorbachev found that very important, and he read it before it was ever published in the West or in Russia, in Samizdat. The high polit had their own list of books they could get. He found in that book something of great value. He rehabilitated Bukharin in 1988 with the widow standing next to him. He always admired Steve for thinking about perestroika and in glasnost in ways that he did.

He was a humane man, and he wrote Bob, as you said, of course, this country took a number of years, you’re right ’87 was still early, to understand who Gorbachev was. There were some who did. I think George Shultz, George H.W., Reagan, in large measure, I think, to save his reputation, but there were many, many who did not. I mean, Al Haig thought he was Stalin in Gucci shoes for two years, three years. Steve went to Camp David before Malta, the Summit in 1989, and he was pitted against Richard Pipes, much more of a conservative, Polish immigrant who taught at Harvard.

The whole high command was there with George H.W. Bush, and Mr. Quayle. Steve, he understood it was probably preplanned, they’d made up their mind, but persuaded of Gorbachev’s genuine interest in serious reform, a great reformer in a tormented country.

Robert Scheer:

Well, I would go further than that. I am sorry to single out Perestroika, but I think it was the book that really set the stage.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Okay.

Robert Scheer:

It raised a fundamental question, even in the book. Does the West really want to have peace with a government? Now you face it with China, even more than-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Absolutely.

Robert Scheer:

… with Putin’s Russia. Can we abide a multipolar world? The great threat from China is not that they’re going to conquer other countries. It’s that they’re going to out-produce us and become the number one economy. Maybe our currency will not be dominant, and so we are now vilifying China because they want to get into high-tech.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yes.

Robert Scheer:

They want to make better … They want to make cars, and high-end, and so they can pay their people more. Ironically, Richard Nixon, the American government made peace with a darkly communist China at the very time I was in there at the end of the Cultural Revolution, shortly before Nixon. It was a scary place, yet Nixon was able, and Kissinger, they were able to make peace that has lasted. Hopefully, it will last even through Biden, but we don’t know now, because now we’re not talking to them.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Bob, let me just say one thing about unipolarity versus multipolar. There was a moment at the end, after the Berlin Wall came down, and Gorbachev played an extraordinary role in Eastern Europe. He basically said to the leaders of East European countries, “You’re independent now. I’m not taking Soviet troops out of the barracks.”

This didn’t happen by alchemy, but he really understood the need for engagement. More than engagement, for countries to work together, and instead at that moment, the United States said, “End of history. We’re the winner. Triumphalism. We shall prevail.” The damage that did is so extraordinary, it’s part of the story. You’re right. Today, and then what happened is you get Putin. Putin is welcomed by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The Nation worries about the authoritarian tendencies.

He’s appointed by Yeltsin. The first act Putin makes is to give Yeltsin and his family immunity, but the great speech Putin gave, important speech in 1997, wasn’t it, Bob? In Munich, at the Munich Security Conference, is essentially a plea for ending a unipolar world at the height of the debacle of Iraq. I think that has always been an important understanding, which the United States, to this day, in its national strategy documents, is calling Russia and China adversaries.

They are not friends. I mean, they’re not even partners maybe, but to make them enemies shuts off the possibility of competing, say, economically with China, or holding our own load. I think we’re going to see the division of Europe, which so many have said, “Well, look at the unity of Europe in the face of Russian aggression.” I think that’s dividing. Ironically, it’s the division between old and new Europe that Mr. Rumsfeld casually played, but you’re right, Bob. There is this sense, and it’s not just China. It’s the Global South. It’s countries which are suffering from hunger and poverty as a result of this focus on this war, which needs to escalate toward some resolution, not toward more weapons.

Let me just say, I was in Moscow when the troops came back, the Russian Soviet troops from Afghanistan. That was not easy. It gets kind of put under the door, as we talk about Gorbachev, but there are Politburo notes which showed how much opposition he faced. That was a courageous decision. We have done a different way, and so I think that it’s important to think of lessons Gorbachev brought us and add to our own, but I despair, I have to say.

I mean, I can’t sit with humility and say I despair because Gorbachev imagined looking out at the world, and he was in a clinic in his last months, at the situation. He had Ukrainian relatives. His long-beloved wife who died in 1999, Raisa, was part Ukrainian. You look out and you must have questions about what you brought to the world and how it’s been both misused and squandered, but he had questions about how he could have led differently. It never goes away. He was a-

Robert Scheer:

Did you talk to him about that?

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yeah. I mean, he was horrified by … He wasn’t horrified, but in the last years … He had hopes for Putin.

Robert Scheer:

When’s the last time you saw him?

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I saw him in 2018. He came to a number of birthday parties for Steve, which were held, it sounds odd, but in the cafeteria, the wonderful buffet of Novaya Gazeta, and he was there, and I had a chance to give him a copy of The Nation’s 150, 150th. He sat, and he drank, and he would sing a little. He just was horrified by how things had been squandered.

He was also very affected, as people forget, by the coup of 1991, which propelled the centrifugal tendencies in Russia, Soviet Union, toward the end of … It wasn’t an empire, in my view. It was a multi-ethnic country, but it’s worth knowing because there’s been some sentimental coverage of how Gorbachev wanted to be buried next to his beloved wife, that his family, much of it lived in Germany. His daughter, granddaughters, great-grandchildren.

I think they were angered by how the country had treated their father, but Raisa Gorbacheva, during the coup, they were in Crimea, and she suffered a stroke. This is known. Because she worried that they would be treated like the Romanovs. She came back to Moscow. She never fully recovered, and though she died seven or eight years later, she never fully recovered, and I think that was always a weight on him. The coup plotters were the kind of … They were the KGB, and the National Security Forces, and they were inept, but in the process, it did propel the end, and Yeltsin became the leader.

Robert Scheer:

Yeah. We found a communist we thought we could control. That was Yeltsin, who was no less-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

He misunderstood the power.

Robert Scheer:

Everybody talks about Putin, who was a low-level colonel, actually.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Absolutely. They … Yeah.

Robert Scheer:

He’s a product of the system, my god, what was Yeltsin? Yeltsin was right in there.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

No, no. He was in the Politburo.

Robert Scheer:

Yeah.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

No, I mean, listen, you debated in 1989. That’s my memory, 1989, because you came back to Moscow a few times. You didn’t debate. You had a conversation with Steve, and Claire Shipman, who was then a CNN reporter, about where Russia was heading. You, I think, met Yegor Ligachyov, who was considered the conservative ballast of the Politburo. Very good man.

Robert Scheer:

I met Alexander Yakovlev, who was the liberal-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

He was-

Robert Scheer:

… of the Politburo, and then he took me down the hall to Ligachyov, because he thought I was demonizing him. He said, “We have our differences, but this is not some monster,” but Ligachyov was not the-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

You were right. I mean, Steve … We got to know him. I think he’s still alive.

Robert Scheer:

Yeah.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Steve wrote the introduction to his memoirs, which appeared in English. He was a conservative!

Robert Scheer:

Katrina, we’re going to run out of time. I want to get back to the urgency of peace-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yes, peace.

Robert Scheer:

… and complexity, and understanding of the societies. Whatever happened to Gorbachev, the fact of the matter is, the U.S. establishment was in a partying mood. They wanted humiliation. They didn’t like Gorbachev’s idea-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

No, they did not.

Robert Scheer:

… of being able to save the system. Ironically, Richard Nixon did. Richard Nixon-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Let me just say that I’ve been reading Gorbachev’s, one of his memoirs he’s written. He went to the airport with George H.W., and this when he was Vice President Bush. Bush explained to him, and Gorbachev kind of accepted it, that only under Reagan, who had called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire, and was tough as nails about any-

Robert Scheer:

Monsters. In my interview with Reagan, he said, “They are monsters, and they will destroy the world.” He told me that, yeah.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Right. I mean, and even in 1985, at the first Summit in Geneva, in the fall of 1985, Gorbachev called Reagan a dinosaur, and I don’t know, Reagan called him an old Bolshevik, so it’s like the dinosaur and the Bolshevik, but they found a way to, for the larger purposes, they abolished an entire class, maybe two classes. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces, and the Conventional Force agreement, and they found a way Of course, the big moment very early on, and it was before Chernobyl, which was a terrible moment where you could see the suppression of voices and the bad information, but in Reykjavík in Iceland, Gorbachev really believed in the abolition of nuclear weapons, a position that Henry Kissinger and who is it? Shalikashvili and a few others have come to in different ways, but Reagan couldn’t-

Robert Scheer:

So did Richard Nixon.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

So did Richard Nixon. Yeah, and Kissinger, but Reagan couldn’t go that far, partly I think … You’ve read Frankie FitzGerald’s book. I mean, Reagan had delusions from Hollywood about SDI, Strategic Defense Initiative, which you’ve written all about, but here’s the thing. Not many magazines have a peace correspondent. We did in Jonathan Schell who, no longer with us, who did a whole issue on abolition and interviewed Gorbachev, but we need to think of peace. Peace has become a subversive term. There are costs to not having peace, and I think … I’m involved with something called the Quincy Institute, which is, you know, about engagement, dialog, and diplomacy.

Robert Scheer:

I know. I talked to the Colonel, Alexander Bacevich, or something, just yesterday.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yeah.

Robert Scheer:

Yeah.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

The aversion, and always believing war is the very, very last resort. I think that, we haven’t even mentioned the word, I don’t think we did in NATO, Bob, but NATO, to this day it’s hard to believe it’s contested, even with the documents that show Gorbachev was basically stabbed in the back. He was reviled in Russia for many, many years for not having gotten a document, an agreement.

Okay, sure. Maybe you should have gotten an agreement, but you think some of these people, I won’t name names, would abide by that agreement? It’s very clear there was a promise on hold, not one inch eastward, which was not just upended, but kind of thrust in his face because they’d moved now to the borders of Russia.

Robert Scheer:

Let me say, I want to, because we’re going to run out of time.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Okay.

Robert Scheer:

This is not basically about the Ukraine, although we could do another podcast on that, and you know a lot more, again, about that. There’s a big idea I want to address here and that is, does the United States want peace? I’m talking about the United States as a culture, as a kind of political entity, despite our agreements. There’s an establishment, seems to get frayed at the edge. This is basically a question raised by a writer who, certainly when he was writing this, had no sympathy for communism, George Orwell.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yeah, I agree.

Robert Scheer:

He had no sympathy for totalitarian, authoritarian rule, and it was George Orwell who, piggybacking on his old French teacher, Aldous Huxley, developed a different model of totalitarianism. Huxley had the one of capitalist corruption, and consumerism, and drugs, and everything. Orwell said, “No.” He thought that societies would become more authoritarian and do it in the brutal way of coercion. He said, however, it would be masked, and so forth, by security, and it would be justified by the hunt for an enemy. The challenge that Gorbachev puts down in that classic book, Perestroika, and I will go to my grave thinking it’s one of the most important, not influential, but logically important works by any man of power, or woman of power, where he said, and this does get echoed later by Nixon and Kissinger, and certainly in the nuclear age, war is not an option.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Right.

Robert Scheer:

He said everything has to be done to understand that and put this … We are now at a moment where people, in kind of a giddy fashion, are sticking their finger in the eye of the Russian bear, or in China, in the case of Taiwan. After all, it was Richard Nixon who accepted the idea that Taiwan’s a part of China. We’re not fighting about that anymore. Instead, now there’s almost, what did we hear that from the head of our military units, Wester, was it? He said, “No, we have humiliation. We have to defeat them. We have to smash them.” We got that from some of the European leaders, and so there’s two questions I want to raise. One is whether the United States can live in peace, and particularly, when we no longer have the supreme confidence in our own economy, and we are being defeated, not in the battlefield but economically, and we saw it during the pandemic. We could not have survived without Amazon getting 90% of what we were buying from China, and then when they didn’t get it from China, they get it from communist Vietnam, or some other place, and that’s one big issue. Is the U.S. capable of, and why are we pushing war? Where is the peace movement? Why aren’t we having negotiations? The other is, one of the ironies of this situation is that we are forcing a realignment between Russia and China, but not just Russia, China. If you look at the polling of Soros’ institute, I think the Open Society, just The New York Times had a story about it today, that much of the world is rejecting the argument about the Ukraine.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I agree, yeah. Let me just address very quickly, America has become comfortable with cold war. We’ve lived with endless wars, but we’ve lived with cold war.

Robert Scheer:

Drunk on it. Not comfortable, drunk.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Okay, but comfortable for many people, drunk for others. I do think that some of it has to do … Generationally, you’re a wise generation. I’m a medium generation, but a new generation has not grown up with leaders, with people in … Well, there are people. I mean, I’m thinking of the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, of Gorbachev, of Mandela, of those who have suffered violence and brutality. Gorbachev hated war, and he hated violence. That’s not the case with many leaders who build themselves up through use of that. There has to be a new idea of how we remain secure. It’s terrifying and tragic as we exit … Who knows if we exit COVID, and pandemics, and all of the climate crisis, existential climate crisis, that we haven’t found a way to rethink security. I think that’s one of the most important issues on the way to peace and to upholding peace. Yes, we need a peace movement, but I’m stunned by going to gatherings where every issue except peace or finding a way to avoid a nuclear apocalypse is discussed. The linkage to money, look at the money we’ve been shipping into weapons and the … I mean, it’s a grotesque obscenity at this moment, the military industrial complex. They are literally so visible, the idea of a deep state is a joke. Russia and China. Why is it in 2022, we have … I mean, the Ukraine peace needs to be a whole program, but why are we declaring these two countries, prior to the Ukrainian situation, great enemies, adversaries, hostile powers?

By the way, so I think we got people in this country who do believe in peace, whether it’s ending guns in their communities, and militarized equipment coming in all the time. The linkages need to be made, and not in glib ways, but there is a question of peace. I would end by saying that Gorbachev, not religiously, but he was a heretic. He was a heretic who was willing to take on the nonconformist, the orthodox views. He was truly someone who could say, without flinching, and believed it, that if we don’t try the unimaginable, we face the unthinkable, and there are not many leaders …

He faced terrible opposition. I mean, the idea that it was all Gorbachev the leader, it’s ridiculous. He couldn’t get decrees fulfilled. He was refereeing between different groups, but he understood what he hoped not only his country, but the world could look like, and not in an arrogant way, which I think colors so much of what we hear these days. I’ll end with one thing, which you’ve done very well, Bob. We live with a time of scrambled politics. The idea that Russia determined Trump’s election, the collusion has diverted clear analysis of the real problems, dangers, challenges we face as a nation. I am sad to watch some of my liberal friends talk about intervention as an important event. They compare Ukraine to the Spanish Civil War. There’s an article, just the other day, about how we liberals should be very proud of the side we’re now on. I think that’s not only a disgrace, but a danger to the world we could live in.

Robert Scheer:

First of all, this kind of talk is nuts. I mean-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I know.

Robert Scheer:

… the people in this country and around the world who wanted to defeat fascism in Spain, defeat Franco, were communists. When they weren’t communists, they were called communists. Come on.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

That’s right. I know. I’m telling you, but-

Robert Scheer:

Red-baited beyond belief. The whole … Look, we always want to find a logical-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

The enemy. We want to find an enemy to define us.

Robert Scheer:

Yeah, but it’s never us.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Right.

Robert Scheer:

Right? It was never us. We’re not allowed to say that because there’s some intrinsic virtue to anything that our government-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

We do.

Robert Scheer:

… that our system does, but the fact of the matter is, we had a whole policy … Forget about Russia for a moment. We had a whole policy of isolating China. You couldn’t do any business with China. You couldn’t get a loan with them.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

That’s right.

Robert Scheer:

We’re doing that again. We are, amazingly enough, trying to punish China because they’ve been good at capitalism.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yeah.

Robert Scheer:

It’s nuts. I have to use a word like that, okay? I was in the Center for Chinese Studies as a graduate student.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

That’s right.

Robert Scheer:

I actually did go there during one of their worst times, maybe their worst time in modern history, certainly, the Cultural Revolution, so I understand the complexities, and I saw, but every war since World War II was fought to contain communism.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I know.

Robert Scheer:

It all turned out to be wrong. Right now, we want Apple … The New York Times has a story today, oh, Apple is being slow in getting out of China-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Jesus, yeah.

Robert Scheer:

… because China has now a lot of engineers, and supply, and blah, blah, blah. Where do they want them to go? They want them to go to communist Vietnam.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I studied in college, what I studied was the McCarthy period. Can’t draw complete parallels, and there were many factors, but the Vietnam War, in many ways, it’s understanding those who presided and were architects of it, did not understand Vietnamese culture, politics, history, and you had people like John Service-

Robert Scheer:

Or Russian culture or Chinese culture.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

That’s right.

Robert Scheer:

We don’t understand anybody’s culture.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

You had people like John Service, who was booted out of the State Department, or I forget which agency, because he was considered too pro-Chinese communist, and this goes on in different names and different-

Robert Scheer:

I’m going to end this, Katrina.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

All right, but we could go on forever, Bob.

Robert Scheer:

No, no, no, but I’m going to end it with pulling rank on you, not only as an old person, but somebody who was singled out as recently as Richard Nixon’s presidency-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

You.

Robert Scheer:

… when I was editing Ramparts, and I had all kinds of, you can get the files, and was observed, and terrible things, but I also had the pleasure of talking to Richard Nixon in his time of retirement and disgrace, when he’d written a number of books about the importance of peace.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Yep. Oh, that’s interesting.

Robert Scheer:

One thing you have to say about the older, quote, conservatives and warmongers, and they were then, they had a sense of limits and costs, and I would say, as somebody who spent quite a bit of time talking to Ronald Reagan, even before he was governor here in California, again, when he said, “The problem is these people are monsters.” When he discovered that Gorbachev was not a monster, Reagan was very open to getting rid of nuclear weapons. What you have now is a memory loss.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

It’s what your good friend, my good friend, Gore Vidal, used to call the U.S. of amnesia. There is an amnesia beyond a history loss that doesn’t permit an understanding, because there’s so much condemnation so quickly of people you’re talking about, or ideas that could be retrieved. I think that’s important, and there is a kind of lockdown on the kind of history permitted. I’m not talking critical race theory or the madness of DeSantis. I’m just talking generally, what you’re not permitted to touch if you’re-

Robert Scheer:

You’re not permitted to challenge America-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Orthodoxy.

Robert Scheer:

Virtue. America makes mistakes, but America never does wrong, so it all started, maybe we should remember, it started with dropping … We talk about terrorism. It started with dropping-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I know, the bombs.

Robert Scheer:

Deliberate bombing of civilians in two, basically, nonmilitary seaport cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I mean, it’s crazy.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Bob, I’m going to take rank as nothing, but just to say you should do a set of podcasts in mid to late October about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the lessons. Martin Sherwin wrote a brilliant book, Gambling to Armageddon, about the good fortune we’ve had, I think, as McNamara said, to escape nuclear annihilation.

Robert Scheer:

Right.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

If we’re still here, you should do all of the great work you’ve done.

Robert Scheer:

It was whenever we had a Democratic president. It’s something I have to remind the editor of The Nation, and I’ll close on this. I’ll probably be condemned to an eternity in hell telling the editor of The Nation she should look to Richard Nixon for an example.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

No, no, listen, I’ve become a realist, a progressive, I hope, humane realist. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for liberal interventions. I will say, there was an event at The Century Foundation here in New York a few years ago, and it was a whippersnapper, young, all these guys around a table, and it was, “How do we get out of Iraq?” Everyone had their eight-part partition plan, until they got to Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Ted Sorensen, who said, “Get out.” I guess, lesson learned.

Robert Scheer:

Well, or talk to the other side.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I know.

Robert Scheer:

I mean, if Richard Nixon could talk to Mao Tse Tung, why, if you suggest on this program, sit down with Putin and-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Bob, the failure of … It’s too stodgy a word, but talking, just back channels, diplomacy, it’s like people are proud that they haven’t talked to someone they need to talk to to resolve a conflict. I mean, that is a measure of madness, in my mind, because you have to find-

Robert Scheer:

Well, actually, it’s happened. I mean, look at, Roosevelt talked to Stalin. Eisenhower talked to Khrushchev.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I know, I know.

Robert Scheer:

What is this? Suddenly, it’s a-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

It’s suddenly dangerous, like you’ll be-

Robert Scheer:

That’s right.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

… infected or, I don’t …

Robert Scheer:

Yeah. All right, well-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I think we need … All right. We’ve resolved all the problems of the world. I’m going-

Robert Scheer:

Maybe we’ll do part two, but I must say-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

By the way, this is the biggest story. I mean, it’s big because it includes the entire world, and the story you cited today about the Global South and how countries are looking. This is just, it needs to find a way, I mean this, but to resolve Ukrainian sovereignty, and independence, but the longer this war goes on … Just look at Afghanistan, how good we are at reconstruction and assisting countries with new leaders.

Robert Scheer:

Now we have the idea that once they cross that border-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

I know.

Robert Scheer:

… because their claim, “Oh, they were going to overthrow a government.” What did we do in Iraq? What did we do in Afghanistan? What did we do in Vietnam? We’ve been the major … As Martin Luther King said, the major purveyor of violence in the world today. Martin Luther King said that. Yet, we now act … Finally, we have our Vietnam. “Oh, we got Putin there and he goes after white people in a civilized country,” and blah, blah, blah. There’s no complexity. There’s no idea of possible negotiation.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

You know what? I’m going to end simply by saying, we should continue this. I would value it, but embrace complexity.

Robert Scheer:

Great.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

We have lost some of that. I mean, it’s not the answer fully, but it is a measure of kind of …

Robert Scheer:

I will.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

You do every day, to excess.

Robert Scheer:

I should, by the way, point out that I am a contributing editor to The Nation. Not that anybody-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

An extraordinary-

Robert Scheer:

… there has ever listened to me, but I-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

No, that’s not … No, no.

Robert Scheer:

I’m only kidding.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

You’ve done some extraordinary … From Clinton and welfare deform to Wen Ho Lee.

Robert Scheer:

Yeah, and I’ve known you forever. I was a close friend of your late mother, who I much admire, and I’ve got some support for this-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Someone is doing a podcast about her. They’re going to be in touch with you, Bob.

Robert Scheer:

Okay.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Anyway-

Robert Scheer:

Well, thank you-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

What you’re going into is a very separate show, which … All right.

Robert Scheer:

All right. Let me just, I just want to thank the people at KCRW for-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Thank you.

Robert Scheer:

… posting these podcasts. Christopher Ho, and Laura Kondourajian, Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who writes for The Nation is also-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Absolutely.

Robert Scheer:

… does the introduction to these.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Award-winning journalist, yeah.

Robert Scheer:

And the JKW Foundation, which in the memory of your mother, Jean Stein, a writer I had great respect for. I want to thank you for support, and that’s it for this issue of-

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Thank you, and thank you to your team.

Robert Scheer:

… Scheer Intelligence. 

8 comments

  1. Simple fact: Gorbachev’s belief in liberal democracy was a huge blunder and intellectually vapid.

    In Russia it quickly devolved into a kleptocracy, in many ways similar to our own beloved oligarchy, just more loot to go around and a more elegant cover story.

    The Chinese were correct to crush the Tiananmen idiots and the gigantic, world-changing results of their path are obvious.

  2. Just today I was reading the head of the IAEA was pleading for the stop of the shelling of the ZNPP because the power plant was in critical condition….but still would not declare which side was doing the shelling. His cowardice to admit the truth will be remembered in history.

    Everybody in the world knows who is shelling this nuclear power plant and everybody in the world knows who is assisting them to do it.

    The west has gone insane and will bring about nuclear war. It’s plain as day. So enjoy today for tomorrow we all die.

  3. Influential elites in the U.S. supported fascism throughout the 20th century, none more than the Rockefellers. The Rockefellers were/are responsible for military violence against workers. I just read that Rockefeller’s CIA recruited Klaus Barbie, “the Butcher of Lyon” into the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corp in 1947. The French discovered this and asked Rockefeller’s C.F.R. man John McCloy who was the U.S. High Commissioner to hand him over but the Rockefeller man refused. Barbie was sent to Bolivia where he became a Lt. Colonel in the military and terrorized workers for 30 years while running arms and drugs in the typical Rockefeller CIA way. With Gen. Banzer in 1972 he kidnapped and tortured progressive groups and helped in the 1980 coup installing General Meza.
    On July 17, 1980 Barbie’s goon squad wore Nazi armbands and insignias. As Aaron Good describes it in his new book, American Exception, “the slaughter was fierce. The putschists stormed the national labor headquarters, they wounded labor leader Marcelo Quiroga who had led the effort to indict former military dictator Hugo Banzer on drug and corruption charges. Quiroga was dragged off… Good then quotes an Argentinian author, Levine, who describes the labor leaders torture and the goal of the revolution “was the protection and control of Bolivia’s cocaine industry… government employees were tortured and shot, the women tied and repeatedly raped by the paramilitaries and the freed traffickers.” George Carlin was right, the Germans lost WWII but the fascists won.

  4. gorby was a dupe–nothing radical or admirable except for lib imperialists—this is now rectified—no longer will Russia accept the anglo immorality fascism and imperialism

  5. Cringe. Propping up Gorbi probably not a good thing. Gorbi and Putin two sides of the same coin. Can’t wrap my head, as a late-term #OKBoomer, how these boomers continue to intellectually fail regarding the Cold War. Then again, I recommend listening to the podcast and remain a Scheerpost fan. One last worst-thought: I’ve never been for a war since WW2 but I’m all in on Ukraine kicking some arse.

  6. I am struck between the similarity of America’s current elderly leaders (Old Joe, Donald, Hillary, Nancy, Mitch, Chuck, Bernie, etc), and the late Soviet Leaders just prior to Gorbachev.

    Both sets seem to exemplify what you get when you select people ‘because it is their turn.’ You get people who did not have the talent to take the top job before, but who have hung on and hung on for years after they should have left all in the hopes that it would be their turn next. That’s their only real talent, hanging on until senility for ‘their turn’.

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