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A Wilderness of Lies

Way back in the before times, a regular feature of the media was the Kremlinologist, who would be brought in to explain something about the Soviet Union. Strictly speaking, Kremlinology and Sovietology were different things. The former focused on Russia and its role in the Soviet system. The latter focused on the Soviet Union as a whole, as if it was a single organism. The terms were often used interchangeably in the Cold War.

Further, the media version of the Kremlinologist was something like the court astrologer, in that they were tasked with using their secret knowledge to explain what was happening with the Russians. If Brezhnev was seen as distracted at a public ceremony, the Kremlinologist would be brought in to explain its meaning. The Kremlinologist became a carnival act toward the end of the Cold War.

Kremlinology and Sovietology were useful to statecraft, however, as the Soviet system was a black box. The West had its spies, but many of those spies were double agents used to feed the West false information. In the wilderness of mirrors that was the rivalry between East and West, the Kremlinologist was useful in helping to sort the facts from the deliberate fictions. They helped contextualize Kremlin behavior.

No doubt the roles are now reversed. The rest of the world is forced to develop experts at analyzing the American regime in order to understand what is going on in Washington and why it is happening. The administrations of Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama were like the Brezhnev period of the Soviet Union. The rhetoric changed from one administration to the next, but public policy, especially foreign policy, did not change.

Then we get Donald Trump. The logic of the American political class said that a populist firebrand could never win a primary, much less a general election. The system made sure of that after the Perot and Buchanan scares. Trump wins and official Washington has a nervous breakdown trying to expel him from the capital. Eventually they replaced Trump with a dementia patient and the empire no longer makes any sense.

The Soviet analogy is not a perfect one, of course. Trump was more like Khrushchev, a reformer who failed to reform the system and was pushed out by hardliners. Biden, on the other hand, is a good analog for Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, two men long past their prime, who were installed as placeholders. They did not last long and were eventually replaced with a younger man, which is what will happen with Biden.

Historical analogies are not supposed to be perfect. They are simply a useful way to use the past to shed light on the present. As the American empire follows down a similar path as the Soviet empire, the comparisons between the two are helpful in understanding what is happening in Washington. Just like the Kremlinologist of yesteryear, we are left to guess about the internal workings of the ruling regime.

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