Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What do you think of the situation prevailing in Syria? Do not you think there is a risk of total war?
Dr. Gilbert Doctorow: It’s obvious. I watched a video clip of Stephen Cohen, my colleague in New York, who was interviewed by Fox News. He gave very specific answers but unfortunately he did not have much time to explain his opinion. He’s a professional in Russian affairs for 50 years and he says the situation is very similar to that of 1962 in the Cuban Missile crisis where we were closest to a nuclear war since the Second World War. I totally agree. The main question is that our leaders, our politicians, our businessmen, the consultants, the intelligence services who do briefing every day, have no expertise on Russia. This expertise was lost just after 11/9 when the US intelligence services were totally cleaned up and most of the people in charge were specialists in the Soviet Union. It seemed that this expertise was no longer necessary or useful and they were replaced by subcontractor experts in Middle East affairs instead of inviting experts to the government. Since 2004, more than 70% of the entire $ 5 billion intelligence budget, which is an incredible waste, is for subcontractors whose expertise is paid. There is no bureaucratic inertia, there is no independence of thought, analyzes are delivered to the customer who pays them. There is no expertise in the US government. When we subcontract intelligence, we can not subcontract what requests security authorization, that is, only open sources are used. If you think that Russia puts in public sources all that it does at the military level, you are a fool or a naive (laughs). Thus, America has not followed carefully and professionally what the Russians have done since 2004. It was during this period that Mr. Putin said « Basta! That’s enough! You have cancelled the ABM conventions, so we are taking all measures to protect ourselves in this chaotic situation. » The Americans laughed while making fun of the Russians, thinking that they could do nothing. This skepticism towards Russia and its capacity to defend itself remains a very strong feeling in America. That is why America is so severe, so cruel and so stupid towards the Russians.
Because you think Russia is able to retaliate?
It was Putin’s speech that focused on Russia’s ability to completely destroy America in 30 minutes via new weapons systems which, in effect, reduced the efficiency of the American system by making it equivalent to the Maginot Line. That is to say that the 500 billion of dollars is a huge waste because the American technique to neutralize the Russians is overwhelmed by Russian technology, including speed Mach 20. There are many reasons why Americans do not understand Russia, even very competent and independent people such as Professor John Mearsheimer of Chicago, a well-known political scientist. He is a realist of the American real political school and against Neo conservatives who are all idealistic. Even a person like him does not understand anything about the capabilities and effectiveness of Russian weapons. Mearsheimer is from the University of Chicago and has co-authored a very controversial book on the Israeli lobby in Washington, that is, it is a brave person to write that. He was the first to write something like that and he was attacked fiercely. But Mearsheimer is ignorant when it comes to Russia. He does not know Russia and he does not understand that it is not necessary to have the same GDP as in America to be more powerful than this one. He does not understand anything. Russia also has a population half the size of America. Russia has a GDP ten times smaller than that of the United States, and a military budget ten times smaller than that of the USA. And Russia has the temerity to tell America « Basta! It’s the end of comedy.” Where is Europe, a collective with a GDP higher than that of America? Where is Europe with a military budget twice lesser than that of America? Not ten times, twice! Europe is a community of slaves.
I said it after making the following conclusions: America does not understand and does not want to understand the strength of Russia. So, with this underestimation of your opponent, you risk falling into total war.
You are a wise observer of Russia, and you have written several books dealing with American-Russian relations: “Stepping Out of Line” – “Does Russia Have a Future?” – ”Does the United States have a future?” etc. How do you see these relationships under the Donald Trump era?
I was for Trump’s election, and I was one of the only well-trained, more or less civilized people, who was in favor of Mr. Trump. The vast majority of American and European educated people were against this man for many good reasons, but me, I was focused on one fact: his position towards Russia, to correct the terrible mistakes that the last three American administrations have made against Russia. Unfortunately, my expectations are disappointed and it seems that Mr. Trump is really a man who does not have the intellectual abilities or the experience required to manage the United States or to manage something of importance. He managed a fortune and a family patrimony with a team of twelve people. In the State, there are different management centers composed of thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of federal employees. He has no experience, no ability to understand even the challenges. As Mr. Tillerson who is also a fool said it correctly: Trump is a fool. That’s why Tillerson was dismissed. When the reporters asked him if that was what he said, he did not deny it. It was the end of the game for Mr. Tillerson. And an other reason why he was dismissed, it is that he made common cause with general Mattis, Secretary of Defense, against Mr. Trump. Eventually, Trump decided to cut this alliance against him, dismiss Tillerson and appoint Mike Pompeo as new Secretary of State, who is a very close person to him.
French President Macron said he had the evidence of chemical attacks in Duma. Do not you think it’s the same scenario as Colin Powel’s wielding false evidence about the existence of WMD in Iraq, and which led to the American intervention and the destruction of Iraq? Do not Western leaders lie to their peoples?
Here in Belgium, centrist people like the MR or Défi were all delighted with the election of Mr. Macron. For me, from the beginning, I heard he was a toy, an American poodle.
Like Tony Blair at the time of George W. Bush.
Yes. It is the result of the direct intervention of the Americans in the French elections. What happened with Strauss-Kahn and even with Fillon? Who was responsible for the Fillon scandal and the Strauss-Kahn scandal? Strauss-Kahn was the most capable, the most intelligent of socialists. Instead of him, the French people had Mr. Hollande, the most empty person possible. Mr. Macron is also empty but he has a smarter face than Mr. Holland. Otherwise, they’re in the same pocket, the one of Washington.
Do not you think Mr. Macron is a neocon?
I don’t know, that’s quite possible, but I don’t think he has any fixed opinions. He’s open to everything. He is very clever, he is intelligent, but on a moral level, it is better to avoid this topic.
Do not Western leaders like Macron lie to their people, since he said he had proof of the chemical attack?
It’s ridiculous. This is exactly the same as the Skripal case. We can prove that someone was attacked by chlorine, yes, but by whom? The Skripals are attacked by Novitchok, good, but by whom? These are the main questions. And Mr. Johnson who went to Oxford gives a good idea of the value of the degree obtained at Oxford. Zero. It is an arrogance based on a diploma that has no value.
So there is a connection between the Skripal case and the Duma chemical attack case?
There is another link. The Russians, including Mr. Nebenzia, the Ambassador to the UN, gave this link in a speech. But I will put the point on the letter i. The starting point is Putin’s speech of March 1st. The answer in the West, for most journalists and politicians, was to deny the reality by saying that all this was bluffing on the part of Putin. They think that the Russians have lost all the great brains that have gone to the West since the 1990s, that no one in Russia can achieve anything extraordinary technologically. How many patents of invention show the Russians? None in comparison with the American inventors.
In terms of research, Americans are superior?
Yes, it’s the idea of Americans and Russians who made their fortune in the West. They think they are the best and that only the losers have stayed in Russia. Only, everyone knows very well if he has some experience and some gray hair that there are many more talents in the world than talent needs, worldwide and in Russia too. Some have found exile in America, good for them. They left for the latest IPhone model. But there are many patriots who stayed in Russia with a brain that works very well.
And those Russians who have gone to America say that Russia is not developed?
Yes. Only a naive or a propagandist can speak like that. Hence this underestimation of Russia which I mentioned above. They do not want to know Russia because they are the inventors from Russia who serve the purposes set by Washington. They do not want to see reality as it is. You say that I am a wise expert. Yes, I have my doctorate in Russian history. I did my studies and my writings in this section of sciences. But that’s not all information bases on which I now make my observations. On the contrary. I worked in Moscow and St. Petersburg for ten years from 1994. I have an apartment in St. Petersburg. I spend two weeks six times a year there. I make my observations on all possible subjects with top Russian journalists; I am invited on Russian television, not for the West but for the Russians. In Russian for Russians. It is very interesting because I am surrounded by great Russian political and scientific personalities. And we have the opportunity to talk to each other during breaks. So I can hear the opinions, especially from relatives of the Kremlin. But also the opinions of my neighbor in the small farmhouse that I own at 80 km south of St. Petersburg. So I can hear the opinions and observe the mentality of the people there, and how it has changed, especially after annexation or reunification with Crimea in spring 2014.
From what you have just told me, you do not see, you the American, the Russians as enemies.
You have to be very careful. The look of the Russians towards the West and America in particular has evolved very visibly in recent years. The vast majority of the population was in favor of Europe and the United States but this has changed since the confrontation from 2012-2014. It started with the Magnitsky law, the first sanction against Russia that did not bite very severely but was very unpleasant. But after the introduction of the real sanctions in 2014 that coincided with the fall of the oil price and with a small crisis in the Russian economy, the connection between the West and its will to suffocate Russia had become very evident to the Russian people. And so took place the abrupt change towards the West, including the United States. And now, we do not think they are enemies, but it’s very close.
Do not you think that the Cold War still exists, because it seems that if US administrations change, there is still an anti-Russia feeling?
Yes, but a cold war implies very specific relationships that do not exist now. First, it is an ideological confrontation that no longer exists. The Russians and Mr. Putin are not communists. They are in favor of a mixed economy: market-state at the same time.
Liberal, yes. But at the same time, all the know-how we had acquired during the Cold War and the knowledge that Russia can destroy us, it has disappeared. Thus, we have an attitude towards Russia which is badly informed by our choice and very risky.
That is to say adventurous.
Adventurous and much riskier than the last decades of the Cold War.
It is more dangerous now?
Yes, without a doubt. First, the expressions and characterizations of the leaders of the Russian political class by the Americans were unthinkable during the period of the Cold War. Say, as Hillary Clinton has said several times, that Mr. Putin is a new Hitler would have been totally excluded. This is due to the level of American culture that is very low compared to the 1960s, 1970s. But there is a reason. This is not an accident. It is not us, it is the Romans, perhaps even the Greeks, who gave the aphorism “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. And America is absolutely corrupt.
Who has an interest in seeing a war between the West and Russia?
No one. But it is not a question of malicious people or arms sellers who want war, no, they are too simplistic generalizations. But where are we now with this underestimation of Russian military will and capability? We have the great opportunity to make an error that could lead to an accident.
From Mr. Trump?
Not necessarily. If something happens on Earth, if there is a loss of life on Earth because of a miscalculation of American forces or American allies, it will be the start of a world war. It will not be by the will of some nasty person. But by accident.
Are we not in the last days of Pompeii?
Yes, but the last days of Pompeii were a natural disaster. We have something quite different.
What do you think of the appointment of Gina Haspel as head of the CIA?
The questions of who is who in the administration do not matter to me because Mr. Trump is driving but his steering wheel is not attached to the vehicle (laughs).
You mentioned in one of your articles that American generals are reluctant to start a war against Russia because the situation is likely to be catastrophic. What is the real balance of power within the Trump administration?
The wisest personalities in this environment are the military. Mr. Mattis is a retired general. He is a civilian today. The Secretary of Defense can not be an Active General. He has his military experience. But the active soldier is General Dunford who is the Chief of Staff. He is the head of all military services. He met his Russian counterpart, General Gerasimov, six or eight months ago. They met in Antalya, Turkey. They spent two days together. They know each other very well. I think Mr. Dunford knows very well that there is no bluffing on the Russian side. What Mr. Gerasimov says is exactly the orders he received from Mr. Putin. When he says he’s going to shoot, that means he’s going to shoot. It is very important to remember that both Chiefs of Staff Dunford and Gerasimov had a telephone conversation a few days ago. I think it’s the most decisive thing in the decisions the Americans are going to make. Mr. Mattis has changed his mind. We’ll see if it stays that way.
Do not you think Trump has changed his mind too?
Trump does not count. If I can put the situation in a specific context, Americans like to talk about « regimes ». America now has a regime. We do not have an elected government, because it does not correspond to elections. Mr. Trump is a person waiting for his resignation; he is under attack every day to remove him from everything. And indeed, he is not a person who makes decisions, and that is our tragedy.
Do not you think he is dangerous?
It has been obvious to me for a long time that Trump has no respect for the federal service, for the US federal government. For him, there is no difference between the posts of the administration, because he does not want to follow the advice of the people who occupy them. He follows another aphorism: “keep your enemies as close as possible.” He has appointed and is surrounded by people who are advocating policies contrary to what he wants himself. This situation is totally abnormal.
Is not the Trump/Bolton duo a danger to global stability?
This is the best example. Mr. Bolton has a lot of enemies and it is unthinkable that he has no authority in Washington. Trump named this person for the reason of having an enemy close to him. To think that he will take into account the opinion of Mr. Bolton is excluded.
So in his administration, Trump has no close friends?
People of the same mentality? No. He’s a madman in his bedroom with his cell phone.
This is an odd situation that America is experiencing…
This is a totally strange situation. It is a bad novel. That’s why I say decisive things will come from the wisdom of the military.
And you think Mr. Dunford has influential generals with him?
My opinion counts for nothing. The evolution of the situation will clarify which is decisive.
What is the real weight of the neoconservatives in the Trump administration?
Trump expelled many neoconservatives out of his administration in the early days. But that does not change much because we have to dismiss the whole American government. It must be realized that under the Bush son administration, his vice-President Dick Cheney has driven out of government all people with some thought independence. For the last 14 years, they have recruited only people who think like them. It must be said that when you say « neo-conservatism », you leave aside the Democrats who are of the same opinion but they are not neoconservatives, they are simply hawks.
Why have not Westerners really fought terrorism? On the contrary, they armed, financed, trained terrorists, especially with their Saudi and Qataris allies and we remember the famous phrase of Laurent Fabius, then French Minister of Foreign Affairs: « Al-Nosra is doing a good job ».
To counter Russia and to change the regime in Syria. We were willing to pay any price and all the blame for the loss of civilian lives was put on Assad’s back.
So change the regime and put a pro-Westerner in the place of Bashar Al-Assad?
Why are the dominant media silent about the catastrophic war that the Saudis are waging against the Yemeni people and which does not provoke any international reaction?
Because, we here in Belgium, there in America, we do not have a free press, it’s very simple. You know very well as a journalist that this whole economic sector is in crisis, it is the result of digital technologies. Last week I was in Rome, I found no newspaper salesman. It does not exist. All shops now sell useless souvenirs that cost nothing and the whole stock costs $ 5 (laughs). But it is not possible to buy a newspaper. In this situation where the press does not have adequate funding, it only worsens the issue of freedom of the press. There is no freedom of the press. We think we are making progress because today there is no need to have intermediaries. It’s the same as saying we do not need teachers in the schools, we can eliminate the middleman and boys and girls will educate themselves with Google.
Do you think that the disappearing of the paper press plays in favor of misinformation?
This plays a huge role, but it is not a recent situation. Mr. Noam Chomsky, the great American dissident, wrote as co-author in 1985 the book The Manufacture of Consent. It’s a matter of censorship out of censure. Today, when someone graduates as a journalist and hopes to make a living, to have a family, there is only one thing to do: go into public relations for a big company. It requires the same skills for an employer who pays the salary. And finally, the journalists became corrupt. My wife is a journalist in fashion world and she knows well this problem. It is not only in Russia that journalists are dismissed, in Belgium too. There are not many journalists in the field of fashion or in major newspapers like Le Soir, for example. Journalists are retiring and it’s over, they are not replaced them because there is no money.
Is not journalism disappearing and are we not moving towards a press made by the citizens, like the alternative press?
The alternative press is a good thing but it is not the same size and it is not the same quality, in principle. If real journalism had continued, it would be much more sophisticated and much more educated than what we have now. We are talking about fake news. There are many fake news because there are no professional intermediaries, and even among the major publishers, I do not speak of the press but of the publishers in general, they sacked the writers. If you are dealing with a big edition, in most cases there are no real writers. All the services of an edition have disappeared, that is to say that the professions are under digital attack. For example, no one in the mainstream media publishes my articles.
Why do not the headlines of the press give the floor to people like you who are enlightening the public about the situation?
Because they do not want to have something that is contrary to the propaganda they receive from the government.
We are in Chomsky’s consent.
Yes exactly. What he had found in Latin America is valid for all Europe and America. We get the State Department briefing and it becomes the article.
Do not you believe that there is a fascist drift in the exercise of this type of journalism?
When we say fascist, it is a specific political denomination. But it’s wider; it’s a kind of totalitarianism. It’s wider than fascism. There is a police of thought. We are on the road to totalitarianism. And we are talking about progress because there is no intermediary, but it is not progress, it is regression towards the Stone Age.
Donald Trump has internal problems including with the FBI who has just searched his lawyer’s home, the French President Macron also has internal problems with immense social protests and Theresa May has internal problems as well. Do you not think that these Western leaders want to circumvent their internal problems by provoking an external war?
What you are saying is the opposite of what is always said about the Russians and Mr. Putin. The autocratic heads of State do not have the support of the people, they have a fear of the people and therefore a political weakness, so they seek adventures abroad to create a diversion. And now you say it about Westerners. I agree. This is a political principle that we can find in Machiavelli. But I make a difference between objective and subjective. I believe that objectively, yes, you are right. Subjectively, I can not think that the people cited, Trump, May, Macron, are considering such solutions. They do not conceptualize challenges like that as head of State. I think they are in the illusion « we do what we think is right and objectively we act as we think ». And I do not think Trump is so consistent in his thoughts to act that way.
As you are familiar with Russia and Russian politicians and high-level officials, what can you tell us about the situation in Ukraine, because nobody talks about it in the media?
I must say frankly that I am not an expert from Ukraine. I went there twenty years ago. I can not tell you what the situation is, except what I see every day on Russian television. One might think that the country is almost bankrupt, that no one is being paid, and that nothing is working. But at the same time, if we look a little bit at the reports of the journalists, it does not seem that it is a disaster, that Kiev has stopped working. It works, there are cars, life, and the bankruptcy of Ukraine that was announced three years ago, has not arrived. For these reasons, I do not want to comment on Ukraine.
On the other hand, on the issues of Ukraine’s relations with Russia, I can comment. Relationships are terrible. The rejection of any solution to the situation in Donbass, in eastern Lugansk, by Mr. Poroshenko and his friends is inexcusable and that gives every reason to fear that there really is a new war there. I believe that if the crisis in Syria resolves, we can wait for a new Ukrainian attack in six months. That is, the two issues are linked; these are America’s efforts to sow chaos and to ensure the asphyxiation of Russia by one way or another.
That is, if the situation in Syria improves, there will be something in Ukraine?
Yes, that’s it. For Russia, the situation in Ukraine is militarily less risky than the situation in Syria. In Ukraine, Russia has every opportunity to resolve the issue in three days. That is, to take Kiev and change the government, and announces the elections in two years, without occupation, just by changing the government. It is very possible and it is within the reach of Russian military capabilities. And the West could not do anything at all.
Why do Westerners, who do not have the means, are they persisting to want fighting Russia?
There are reasons. And it is not just a matter of president who is a fool, and counselors who are wicked, there is much more than that. The entire world system is protected by this foolish president and his wicked advisors, and this gives a lot of wealth to America at the expense of the rest of the world. As a Russian politician said on TV, « Americans eat everyone’s lunches for free » (laughs). And that’s the case. And Russia has endangered this total supremacy, this global hegemony, which gives a lot of wealth to America.
And you think that the American regime does not want a multipolar world with Russia, China, etc.?
For the moment, it is not multipolar, it is bipolar: Russia, America. Europe does not count for nothing, and China finally counts for nothing because it does not take a position. It is Russia and America that make the game now. This will for the asphyxiation of Russia is the result of this public objection of Russia against American hegemony. And the lines go through Syria, that’s where confrontation is and that’s why both sides don’t want to give up. But the stakes are real and very big, much larger than Syria. Much bigger than the Middle East. They are planetary. That’s why the Russians initially thought it laughable to accuse Putin of supporting Trump against Hillary, because the Russians are aware that this confrontation with the Americans has real and important bases and that the challenges and stakes are great. We change the president, but we don’t change the foundation.
Under the Obama era, we did not have this risk of direct confrontation.
Mr. Obama was mostly cowardly but it was a good thing.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Gilbert Doctorow?
Dr. Gilbert Doctorow is an American professional watcher and actor specialized in Russian affairs going back to 1965, and a political analyst based in Brussels, Belgium. Dr. Doctorow is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College (1967), a past Fulbright scholar, and holder of a Ph.D. with honors in history from Columbia University (1975). After completing his studies, Mr. Doctorow pursued a business career focused on the USSR and Eastern Europe. For twenty-five years he worked for US and European multinationals in marketing and general management with regional responsibility. From 1998-2002, he served as the Chairman of the Russian Booker Literary Prize in . Doctorow’s current research interest is trends in U.S. area studies programs. He is a Visiting Scholar of the Harriman Institute, Columbia University during the 2010-2011 academic year.
A number of his early scholarly articles on Russian constitutional history under Nicholas II drawn from his dissertation remain ‘in print’ and are available online. Dr. Doctorow has also been an occasional contributor to the Russian language press including Zvezda (St Petersburg), Russkaya Mysl (La Pensée russe, Paris) and Kontinent (a journal sponsored by Alexander Solzhenitsyn) on issues of Russian cultural and political life. He regularly publishes analytical articles about international affairs in his blog on the portal of the Belgian daily La Libre Belgique.
Dr. Doctorow is author of several books, including: Does Russia have a future? ; Stepping out of line ; Does the United States have a future? ; Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations.
Published in American Herald Tribune, April 24, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/politics/2235-gilbert-doctorow.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.260418.htm