One of the oddest reactions to Vice President Cheney's now-infamous speech in Lithuania, the one which many Russians believe officially heralded the start of a new Cold War, came from the mainstream American media. What was so strange? They actually did their job.
Instead of simply parroting the Administration's latest pieties, something the press has been doing for as long as I've been here, they actually allowed themselves to smell a rat. And what a putrid, bloated, rotting-in-a-flooded-Manila-gutter rat odor it was! You'd have to have been literally brain dead not to have smelled it.
The rat of course was the insane hypocrisy of a foaming fascist like Dick Cheney suddenly getting all Amnesty International righteous over a bad regime that does bad things. The fact that Cheney flew straight to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan right after squirting over Russia's human rights problems turned the rank hypocrisy into a bad black comedy routine, barely fit for even a hack like Tom Green. Kazakhstan is a country where opposition politicians and media aren't merely jailed, exiled or cowed as they are in Russia, but are shot and dumped in forests, Miller's Crossing-style, on behalf of a despot whose family runs the country like its own fiefdom.
Azerbaijan is even worse, if such a thing can be imagined... not only because the Azeri authorities brutally suppress pro-democracy protests, but because it is the first and only post-Soviet state to officially create a despotic family dynasty. After former leader Heydar Aliyev died in office, he passed power (along with control over the country's vast oil wealth) to his son, Ilham Aliyev, in 2003, a dynastic transfer that was quickly "legimitized" by rigged elections that the Bush administration chose to see as a democracy cup 1/100 full rather than 99/100 empty.
Incredibly enough, a few members of the mainstream American press were shocked into action by Cheney's crackpipe hypocrisy. On May 9th, the normally anti-Putin New York Times published an editorial titled, "Cheney as Pot, Putin as Kettle," tepidly calling into question Cheney's bizarre meta-irony routine: "spearing Russia while flirting with its even more undemocratic neighbors confuses the message, especially when done by a vice president identified with oil interests." Tepid, but at least a rare acknowledgement of Cheney's end-of-the-crack-baggie logic.
The hypocrisy was so bizarre and brazen that even bland newswire agency AP got in on the outting bandwagon, with a May 8th article, "Analysis: Cheney promotes democratic reform everywhere but oil-rich Kazakhstan." You'd almost think that the American media actually questions its leaders' motives!
Even the pro-Cheney Wall Street Journal published an Op-Ed by Andrew Kuchins, although in a clever ruse he tried to diffuse it by pointing out how obvious it was: "Alert the media: We've identified double standards in U.S. foreign policy!" he sneered, before moving on to the "real" issues raised. As if obvious evil is somehow less pernicious than the kind of evil you have to look for.
Cheney's speech raised a lot of questions and a lot of debate, but no one asked one of the most obvious questions of all: Why did Cheney choose to flaunt his hypocrisy in everyone's faces? Why not try faking it, the way most Western leaders operate when they mix righteous words with rapacious policies? Why didn't Cheney choose to put a bit of space in between his speech attacking Russia's record on democracy and his visits to the despotic Central Asian states?
Or put another way, what if it wasn't a mistake. What if the blatant, insane hypocrisy WAS the real message...and always has been all along?
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The best way to answer this is to go back and retrace how Russia and America wound up in this once-unimaginable situation. It would seem to be a massive policy failure, allowing Russia to become a Cold War enemy again, perhaps the greatest American foreign policy failure of our time. Unless, of course, you put all the blame on Putin's evil little authoritarian shoulders, which is the natural tendency of nearly every American commentator.