An incisive and occasionally caustic critique of American attitudes toward post-Soviet Russia.
Russian expert Cohen (Voices of Glasnost, not reviewed) takes the reader through a decade of American policymaking that he views as nothing less than an unmitigated disaster. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, he argues, the Clinton administration, along with the majority of American scholars and journalists, has embarked on an ideological crusade, preaching the necessity of monetarist, free-market reforms and unflinchingly supporting the Yeltsin administration despite incontrovertible evidence that the reforms and the reformer have driven Russia back into the 19th century. Cohen is especially compelling in demonstrating the parallel between contemporary American "transitionologists" (those who believe Russia is in a period of "transition" to American-style free market democracy) and the Communists themselves—both have proved willing to overlook the poverty, chaos, and misery created by "shock therapy" reforms in the name of a purportedly golden future. While Cohen's argument is effectively laid out, however, it bogs down in the book's middle section, where he reprints a series of articles written since 1992. Cohen's prescience and deep understanding of Russian society are easy to glean from these pieces, but their repetitiveness soon takes on a smirking quality. The final third of the study, in which Cohen outlines a new Russia policy based on respect for Russian realities and the dangers posed by the country's nuclear arsenal, is marred by a different kind of self-importance: perhaps because he studies Russia for a living, Cohen gives it a centrality in his analysis of American policymaking that at times verges on the unbelievable. These are minor flaws, however, in an otherwise thoroughly convincing work.
Unafraid to be contentious or to stand accused of nostalgia for the Soviet Union, Cohen offers a blistering, brilliant, and deeply felt critique of America's decade-long daydream of a Russia in transition.