Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, writing in the Moscow Times:
I have noticed a disturbing new trend among my students: In the past 10 years, the number of them who sincerely believe ridiculous conspiracy theories about U.S. aggression and global domination is increasing. This is particularly disturbing considering that many of these students may very well rise to become members of the country’s elite and represent the new faces of Russia.
One of their favorite conspiracy theories is that former U.S. President George W. Bush and his cronies were behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Al-Qaida, it would seem, had nothing to do with Sept. 11, although it has claimed responsibility repeatedly. And when asked why Bush would commit such an unthinkable crime, they always respond, “So that he would have a pretext for attacking Iraq.”
But, of course, Bush already had a pretext for invading Iraq: former President Saddam Hussein’s secret program for developing weapons of mass destruction based on reliable intelligence data — or what seemed objective and reliable at the time. Any corrupt policeman knows how to plant drugs on somebody he wants to arrest. Using this basic tactic, the CIA, had it wanted to do so, could have planted uranium in a mountain cave or could have found secret agents at a Baghdad scientific institute to plant evidence of Iraq’s intention to develop nuclear weapons. They might also have seized one of Hussein’s palaces and “discovered” a directive for a nuclear strike against Israel and the United States hidden neatly under his bedroom pillow. Staging any one of these shams would have been simple and inexpensive. More important, they would not have resulted in the deaths of the thousands of U.S. citizens who were killed in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
It doesn’t take much thinking to realize that my students’ theory is crazy. Bush would have had to get hundreds of senior military commanders and intelligence officials involved. They then would have had to select reliable pilots and secret agents to carry out the mission and make sure that none of these conspirators at any point in their lives spilled the beans or left compromising evidence to friends or relatives.
It is interesting to compare this ludicrous theory with the real Watergate conspiracy. Operatives loyal to former President Richard Nixon broke into Democratic Party headquarters in Washington’s Watergate Hotel in June 1972 to gain valuable information about Nixon’s opponents in the presidential election to be held several months later. The whole noise around Watergate must seem very strange to Russia’s leaders, who think nothing of eavesdropping on their political opponents and even throwing a few of them in prison.
But in the United States, Congress, an independent prosecutor, the media and the Supreme Court played a key role in digging up the truth and revealing the crimes committed by the Nixon administration. As a result, some of Nixon’s closest aides were sent to prison. And, of course, Nixon was forced to resign in August 1974 to avoid an impeachment process that was guaranteed to result in his removal from office. Nixon escaped a prison term only because his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him.
But let’s suppose for a moment that Bush and his military leaders and secret service chiefs ordered the Sept. 11 attacks. This raises a question: Why then does Russia fear the United States? Why should the Kremlin count every missile and warhead to be sure Russia’s arsenal doesn’t lag behind that of the United States? After all, according to the conspiracy theory, U.S. leaders are willing to destroy their own economy and infrastructure themselves. As it turns out, we don’t need nuclear weapons after all.
It is not only Russia’s students and future diplomats who believe in this nonsense. There are plenty of analysts in their 50s and 60s — many of whom are highly influential public figures — who also propagandize these conspiracy theories on television and in the print media. One seasoned military analyst even tried to convince me that the United States was behind the recent Moscow metro bombings. “Where is the proof?” I asked.
“The explosions took place right after Russia made the summer transition to daylight savings time,” he said.
With these brains, how will Russia ever modernize?