- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009


The Russians are coming, or rather one Russian - Igor Panarin - has rapidly received remarkable media attention with his prediction that the United States is on the verge of economic collapse.

In his view, continuing financial turmoil, increasingly severe recession and resulting unemployment mean there is a 55 percent to 45 percent chance the nation will sunder within the next couple of years.

Mr. Panarin foresees the United States splitting into regions, and his crystal ball even shows contours of these independent states - the Atlantic Coast, Central states, Northern states, Pacific Coast, the South and Texas.

This does not appear to be a hoax. Mr. Panarin is dean of the Academy of the Foreign Ministry of Russia, which trains diplomats. Earlier, he was an analyst in the KGB, the intelligence arm of the Soviet Union. In the state-controlled Russian media, Mr. Panarin’s views are very prominent. This is not surprising, given growing nationalism in Russia.

However, his views are in stark contrast to history. The Founders of the United States neatly finessed the many tensions between states and national authority with a Constitution notably brief but brilliantly crafted, designed to adapt to changing circumstances. Particularly intense disagreement about slavery continued to threaten American national unity until the Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln guided the Union to ultimate victory through a remarkably disciplined comprehensive strategy. He constantly sought military leaders who could match the initially superior talent of the South. Principal Union ground commanders at war’s end, Gens. Ulysses Grant, William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan, were not prominent at the start. He instituted a military draft, to great popular protest and at some political cost. Lincoln also pressed for enlistment of black troops and introduction of women to the workplace.

Federal war strategy also included crucial economic resources. Lincoln appointed a bitter - and dangerous - party rival, Salmon P. Chase, as secretary of the treasury. The talented Chase in turn was instrumental in creating a strong federal currency while overseeing a rapidly expanding federal budget. Debt ballooned but remained manageable, in contrast to the steadily deteriorating economic conditions of the Confederacy. An effective land as well as sea blockade of the South created ultimately unendurable economic pressure.

The Civil War established the paramount role of Washington, never broken since. Regional differences continued, and great bitterness in the South lived on literally for generations. Conventional wisdom held a Southerner could not be elected president. When Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas sought the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, he constantly stressed that he was from the West, not the South.

The election of Jimmy Carter of Georgia to the White House in 1976 signaled that era was over. The issue did not come up in serious terms when Bill Clinton of Arkansas ran for president in 1992. In short, U.S. regional differences are durable, but far less intense than earlier in history.

Gathering intelligence is almost always highly uncertain. Among many recent books on the subject, Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes” stands out. The title comes from a statement by a frustrated President Dwight D. Eisenhower concerning his own record. In fact, Ike’s relatively good performance in this grey area, beginning with command in World War II, is a central element in his steadily growing historical reputation.

Good intelligence officers, like good historians, collect information from many sources. By all means consider Mr. Panarin’s views, but more for what they reveal about Russia than about us.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of “After the Cold War” (New York University Press and Macmillan).

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