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The Czar's Big Mistake

Tacitus has some sound advice for his Nader-sponsoring fellow-travelers on the right:

I don't think any of us on the GOP side actually want a thriving nutball movement led by the likes of Saint Ralph (to say nothing of the detestable Greens) and his assorted fringe fellow-travelers. We foster them on the assumption that they will remain forever on that fringe, or at least affect the policy debate so little as to not cause worry to those of us who like America more or less as it is. This is a dangerous and foolish assumption. History goes its own way, and it is replete with examples of manipulated forces that broke loose of the manipulators to the latter's eternal grief: perhaps it's a hyperbolic metaphor, but seeing the GOP sponsor Nader to beat the Dems calls to mind the Israelis sponsoring Hamas to beat the PLO. Sometimes you have to stop and think: Where is this going? What happens if my sponsorship, well, succeeds?
Indeed. The Czar in Russia, or at least his minions on the Okhrana, once got the bright idea that they really ought to give covert support to these nutty Bolsheviks. That gang of wreckers made more trouble for the other socialists (to say nothing of the constitutional liberals!) than they did for the regime itself. Besides which, their crazy antics would help convince the various aristocratic and business elites that the entire anti-regime movement was dangerous and insane. Last but by no means least, there was simply no way that gang of nutjobs was every going to take over the country. The real enemies, as everyone knew, were the Kadets and the Mensheviks, that was a threat to the regime. The Bolsheviks were just a threat to the other revolutionaries.

Needless to say, it didn't work out so well in the end, though in a sense the real blame lies with the Kaiser for whose (admittedly, rather clever) war strategy of shipping Lenin and a big box of gold from Switzerland into Russia hundreds of millions of people paid a heavy price over the years.

Now there's no moral equivalence between the Green Party and the Bolsheviks (or Hamas, for that matter) but the general point holds -- encouraging the extremists on the other side as a way of weakening your main enemy is a very shortsighted political strategy.

July 2, 2004 | Permalink


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And the GOP pursuing a short-sighted political strategy is news?

Posted by: Mike | Jul 2, 2004 3:57:01 PM

I'm not surprised that Tacitus didn't mention a different analogy: US governments giving Stinger missiles and lots of financial aid to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan to irritate the Soviets. But why didn't Long Tall Yglesias mention it? I mean, does it just suck as an analogy, or what?

Posted by: VKW | Jul 2, 2004 4:01:59 PM


A more apposite example is the election of Jesse Ventura as Governor of Minnesota. He was an exotic freakshow third party candidate but was invited to the debates by the Democrat, Skip Humphrey (or it may have been the Republican, my memory is hazy here). In any case, the reasoning was that he would siphon votes away from the other mainstream candidate.

Of course Jesse "the Body" won.

Posted by: DAn F. | Jul 2, 2004 4:04:19 PM

"The real enemies, as everyone knew, were the Kadets and the Mensheviks, that was a threat to the regime. "

Err, and the Social Revolutionaries. After all, they were the later incarnation of the Narodniks, who had a record of offing Czarist officials.

Mind you, after Bogrov (a sleeper Bolshevik agent) killed Stolypin, you'd think the Czar would have taken the threat from Bolsheviks more seriously.

Posted by: Tom | Jul 2, 2004 4:17:50 PM

VKW: Another apt analogy would be supporting that fringe nutjob Saddam Hussein against the Iranians. Now *that* was a good idea.

Posted by: snoopy | Jul 2, 2004 4:30:41 PM

This is all up side down, Orwellian newspeak. Nader is not extremist. He seems to be a garden variety third-way UK-Labor-style social democrat. You can't get any LESS extreme than that. Bush is an extremist. Kerry - whatever he is - must be more of an extremist than Nader.

Posted by: abb1 | Jul 2, 2004 4:34:24 PM

snoopy: The Saddam analogy is dead wrong. Saddam wasn't supported because he was seen as so extreme that he would never rise to any real power. He was supported because he was less extreme than Iran.

VKW: I don't think the mujahadin analogy is very good either. Matt was talking about supporting a more extreme enemy in the hopes of distracting a less extreme enemy. The mujahadin weren't really a more extreme enemy than the Soviets. They weren't seen as much of a threat to the US at all at the time, and even now they are a clearly distinct kind of threat, not simply a more extreme version of the Soviets. The czar/Bolshevik analogy is better.

abb1: In comparison to views of mainstream Americans, Nader is an extremist. Bush is not. That's the only reasonable standard on which to judge.

Posted by: Xavier | Jul 2, 2004 4:45:51 PM

"In comparison to views of mainstream Americans, Nader is an extremist. Bush is not. That's the only reasonable standard on which to judge."

Yeah, right. Mainstream Americans have been bombarded by Nader's TV ads, endless media exposes of his political agenda and watched weekly prime-time presidential debates with his participation. And they decided he is too extreme. I must've missed all that.

Posted by: abb1 | Jul 2, 2004 5:13:56 PM

I actually agree, abb1, that Nader isn't much of an extremist. Which is exactly what makes his candidacy so ****ing stupid: Kerry has a good center-left record on the environment, labor, etc (though, he stupidly supported the war). Nader does too, roughly. If Nader WERE an extremist, then perhaps there would be some purpose to his campaigns, since he would offer an alternative with significant differences with BOTH of the other candidates, but he isn't, so his campaign has no point.

Now, the Green Party -- as opposed to Nader personally -- is rather extreme in its views, as they seem to be in favor of broad social and economic reengineering of society along negative-Norquist lines, but the Greens and Nader have fallen out with each other, so Nader goes back to being what he's always been: a left-center good government type, a bit like Kerry, but without the "viable chance of beating Bush" part.

Howard Dean or Joe Lieberman aren't "extreme," but I promise I'll yell at them anyway if they try to run for president as independents.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Jul 2, 2004 5:36:06 PM

I'm not so sure that those analogies really capture the underlying reality.

The Republicans (or, at least, the extreme wing of the party) are more in the position of the Kaiser in 1917 rather than the Tsar a decade earlier. I.E., the Tsar had a lot to lose if the government was to be overthrown - the Tsar didn't want to destabilize the entire political system but rather to destabilize only his enemies. The system as a whole was rather to the Tsar's liking. Similarly, the Israelis didn't want to undermine their own political system, but rather solely to undermine their opponents. In those types of situations, creating additional extremist groups is a severe mistake.

The Republicans don't see themselves as protecting the current political system. Rather, they have a number of (often contradictory) revolutionary programmes. Civil war is a great way to bring down the current regime, and raising extremism on both sides is a great way to bring about civil war. Your radical actions can then often be cloaked as self-defense or as other seemingly plausible patriotic/ideological reasons. In a moderate climate, your radical actions will more likely be seen for what they are and thus be rejected by the population. If you want to be radical, it is often necessary to have a radical opponent.

Thus, the Republicans are more in the situation of the Kaiser - who, of course, had little interest in maintaining the Tsar's regime but much to gain even if Lenin only managed to stir up a lot of trouble in Russia and failed to take over the country. Any form of trouble inside the opposing country would, at least in the short term, be very positive.

This is the situation the Republicans see themselves. In the short term, Nader might provide the Democrats enough trouble to get the Republicans over the next election hump. After that, they hope to restructure the political system so substantially that there could be no concievable threat from any other political party. Since the Republicans have already demonstrated a good amount of ability to restructure political systems in their favor while maintaining a veneer of democracy, this plan is by no means impossible.

Not that Nader is necessarily politically extreme.

Posted by: burritoboy | Jul 2, 2004 5:40:23 PM

Who was that masked man? burritoboy's analysis is to my liking.

And I don't trust Tacitus. The dude is smart, folks. A surface honesty does not preclude a covert strategy.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 2, 2004 6:04:09 PM

Who was that masked man? burritoboy's analysis is to my liking.

And I don't trust Tacitus. The dude is smart, folks. A surface honesty does not preclude a covert strategy.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 2, 2004 6:04:52 PM

One of Burritoboy's thoughts reminds me of Matt's "tragicomic symbiosis."

"If you want to be radical, it is often necessary to have a radical opponent."

Yglesias: (Feb. 4, "Uzbek Shenanigans")
"The final thought is this. We support the Uzbek government because it is fighting Islamists. (snip) Under the circumstances, what are the odds that the Uzbek government will really take efficacious action to solve the Islamist problem? Not good, I would think. See also -- Pakistan, Egypt -- where similar tragicomic symbiosis between US aid, repressing government, and radical Islamism is under way."

Posted by: crispious | Jul 2, 2004 8:41:31 PM

If Nader wanted to, he could probably rally and deliver a large number of lefties to Kerry. But such a Nader endorsement might, then, repulse an even larger number of moderate swing voters away from Kerry and back into the Bush column.

Posted by: crispious | Jul 2, 2004 8:57:09 PM

My doctrine is simple:

If the enemy of my enemy stands behind my enemy, I can get them both with one shot.

- Karl Rove, Unplugged

Posted by: bumperstickerist | Jul 2, 2004 11:27:06 PM

So we shouldn't encourage Pat Buchanan to drag the warmonger Armageddon bigots out of their Republican home either. The worst Republicans are much more frightening than the worst Greens.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 3, 2004 8:44:20 AM

"The worst Republicans are much more frightening than the worst Greens."

...and the Democrats are all sqeeky clean moderates, who just happen to believe we went to war in Afghanistan to build a pipeline and think George Bush wanted 9-11 to happen.

Oh, wait, that's just Terry McCauliffe. The chairman of the party. He's not representative of the mainstream in your party, is he?

The self-righteousness of this comment thread is disgusting. You all should look in the mirror every now and then.--s

Posted by: j.scott barnard | Jul 3, 2004 11:29:50 AM

Nor should we have dreamed those dreamy dreams about Roy Moore.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin | Jul 3, 2004 10:29:20 PM

Zizka wrote:

>So we shouldn't encourage Pat Buchanan to drag
>the warmonger Armageddon bigots out of their
>Republican home either.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Pat Buchanan an isolationist?

Posted by: Naomi | Jul 4, 2004 4:43:35 PM

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