Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 29, 2008

THE REPORTS OF OUR 'DISINTEGRATION' HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED.... The Wall Street Journal has an interesting front-page item this morning, on the popularity in Russia of a scholar predicting the collapse of the United States.

For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.

In recent weeks, he's been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. "It's a record," says Prof. Panarin. "But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger."

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

But it's his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin's views also fit neatly with the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s.

Panarin believes there's "a 55-45% chance" that the United States will experience "disintegration" in the coming years. He's been making the same predictions since 1998, but given anti-American sentiment in Russia, Panarin's ideas have apparently made him something of a cause celebre.

Here's the thing to keep in mind, though: Igor Panarin's understanding of the modern United States appears to be rather limited.

Slate's Ryan Grim noted a recent report outlining Panarin's vision for the future of the U.S.: "He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts -- the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; five of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong."

If this reflects Panarin's knowledge of the country, I have a hunch we'll be fine.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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Attention-seeking wishful thinking that is spectacularly wrong?

Igor Panarin, if you were American, you'd be a regular "expert" on Fox News.

Posted by: Chris S. on December 29, 2008 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Except for the political differences, it sounds like Panrian would have been right at home in the Bush administration.

That said, I hope that the Russians in power aren't similarly self-delusional and that they won't assume that they can get away with anything while rebuilding their empire because the U.S. will be too weak and too distracted to do anything about it.

The real way to bring about national security is to cripple the economies of the countries who hate us by ending our dependence on all fossil fuels.

Posted by: SteveT on December 29, 2008 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Jet on December 29, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Igor Panarin, if you were American, you'd be a regular "expert" on Fox News.

Wrong. He would be on MSNBC, and we would call him Pat Buchanon.

Posted by: Danp on December 29, 2008 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

If McCain/Barbie had won though, his disintegration scenario wouldn't be such a far stretch maybe.

Posted by: Donna on December 29, 2008 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Boy, is this guy wrong. While others might use a hyphen when identifying some of us, nearly every American I know thinks of himself or herself as an American.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 29, 2008 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

It reads like the linchpin of his theory is an assumed disharmony based on ethnicity. Bigotry is hardly a sound platform for social science.

I wonder if he knows who we just elected president?

Posted by: JC on December 29, 2008 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Looking at Panarin's predicted map, including the various outcomes, it's clear he hasn't the slightest clue as to the populations of the various states, including their political and cultural predispositions.

In other words, he seems to know about as much about America as the average undereducated American does about Russia.

Posted by: Becca on December 29, 2008 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Seems more like a combination of psychological projection and using the break up of the USSR as a guide for this scenario.

Posted by: Former Dan on December 29, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't Russia's economy boom-or-bust, depending on oil prices? If so, it wouldn't exactly do Russia much good if America tanks, because it would knock a bigger hole in world oil demand than is already there.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on December 29, 2008 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Wait - am I going to be living in part of Canada after this split occurs?

I better start stocking up on back bacon.

Posted by: Old School on December 29, 2008 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, he gives us less time than Nostradamus. OTOH, he still seems smarter than William Kristol.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on December 29, 2008 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

It's true that Panarin's scenario is obviously seen through the lens of the Soviet breakup, and that the regional fractures he predicts are rather unlikely, but I've long thought that we on this side of the Cold War drew the wrong lesson from our old adversary's disintegration. The USSR looked like a permanent part of the landscape for decades; it fell apart within a period of months. This country's own political, social and economic institutions are far more brittle than most people will acknowledge (decades of the GOP playing a Milosevic-style game of exacerbating existing regional, racial, cultural and class divisions for short-term political gain haven't exactly done wonders for the commonweal—cf. Pat Buchanan to Richard Nixon in a 1971 memo: "...cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half"), and under the right circumstances, the proper combination and sequence of blows, I think we could fall apart after our own uniquely American, heavily armed fashion.

Don't get me wrong: I'm personally disposed to think, and certainly hope, that we'll muddle through. But particularly if the Republicans persist in the Clinton-era tactic of attempting to render the country ungovernable when they are in the opposition, it's difficult to dismiss some dire alternative scenarios altogether.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on December 29, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

On the plus side, I assume Chicago will be the capital of the Central North-American Republic.

Oh fellow Central North-Americans, doesn't your chest swell with pride at the prospect?

Posted by: leo on December 29, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

It's called 'projection'-- Panarin is predicting the past, except that it happens to the US rather than to the USSR. Wishful thinking, one supposes-- with a dash of Russian wackiness.

Posted by: MattF on December 29, 2008 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

'If this reflects Panarin's knowledge of the country, I have a hunch we'll be fine.'

This Panarin must be one powerful dude if his knowledge(or lack thereof) of America determines America's integrity. Is that you, Sarah? he he.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on December 29, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

---On the plus side, I assume Chicago will be the capital of the Central North-American Republic.

Oh fellow Central North-Americans, doesn't your chest swell with pride at the prospect?---

With Blago as president of CNAR? Or Daley? Since Canadian influence is so profound, I was thinking Toronto for the capitol. That is, if anyone can find Canadian influence anywhere. I don't think there is even any Canadian influence in Canada.

Of course, there would be a civil war in Illinois, because the Deep South starts just south of Kirby Avenue in Champaign. The southern half of the state would love to be just like Alabama.

Posted by: Tim H on December 29, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK
If this reflects Panarin's knowledge of the country, I have a hunch we'll be fine.

Ignorant people saying you are doing badly based on poor understanding is not a sign you are, in fact, doing well.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 29, 2008 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

That's right you Russian A-hole! Look at our solidarity in the face of your attempts at dividing us. Problem is, you don't understand that what unites us is far more powerful than any superficial differences. That uniting force, our love of Iraqi blood, is something you'll probably never understand. That's why you live in Russia, and we live in America, where the dream of our founders lives on. George Washington said "As long as the blood of even one Mesopotamian does not flow like the Euphrates, America is not - nay cannot be free." You'll never understand our love of Iraqi blood. It is our fundamental national creed, even more important to us than democracy. That's why you'll never be an American, IGOR. By the way, what kind of a fucking freak has a name like IGOR?

Posted by: RepoMan on December 29, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

I laughed at the idea of Alabama or Georgia being influenced by Mexico...

Posted by: dal20402 on December 29, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

As a New Yorker, I welcome the admittance of Atlantic America into the EU. We get rid of the crazier parts of country and become part of the civilized world. It's win-win for us.

Too bad this is just a bizarre fantasy of a nutty Russian.

Posted by: g. powell on December 29, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

I dunno Steve. If you live in Southern California, you'll commonly hear the deranged laments of those who believe Mexico is our Palestine. Such as this gem from a former column:

"...Cali is already under attack from Mexico."

Isn't it wonderful to hear progressive speak this way? But it's everywhere here. Some have deep-fried hatred of everything Mexican, and just like that writer, are always only two farts away from yelling "Fucking beaners!!" Fear not, when the jobs are gone, they'll all go back to their dirt palaces and you can sell back some of the ammo.

California: The New South.

Posted by: MissMudd on December 29, 2008 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

are we sure this isn't a hoax from those Canadian DJs that pranked Sarah Palin?

Posted by: sanfermin on December 29, 2008 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

further Balkanization of America is inevitable. To think otherwise is a bit pollyanish. Don't forget the next intractable war to further weaken our standing economically and militarily is being ramped up.

Personally as a believer in the McKibben local economy model I welcome balkanization.

Posted by: grinning cat on December 29, 2008 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

It does make me wonder about what we are told about places like Russia, Iraq or Afghanistan. I have a feeling that the pundits we have are just as misguided as he is, only in reverse. Is 'Panarin' just Russian for 'Wolfowitz'?

Posted by: biggerbox on December 29, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK
"With Blago as president of CNAR? Or Daley? Since Canadian influence is so profound, I was thinking Toronto for the capitol. That is, if anyone can find Canadian influence anywhere. I don't think there is even any Canadian influence in Canada."

Led by Tsar Daley, we will fight off this outrageous intrusion by the Toronto imperialists.

Posted by: leo on December 29, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe Russia will get Alaska back, and Sarah - 'I can see Russia from here" - Palin too. Texas - in the words of the immortal Molly Ivins, "the national laboratory for bad government", should be on its own; it's always seen itself as separate. Then the destructive likes of Bush and his ilk would at least be confined to a foreign country.

Now if only we could find a place for all the Christianists... How about Oklahoma?

Gee, this game is fun. The Russians have given us a new dinner party game for the holidays. How nice of them.

Posted by: rich on December 29, 2008 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

A former KGB analyst, nice dude for sure. I guess the ex-Waffen SS guys are too old to do much anymore.

Posted by: Peter on December 29, 2008 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK


We will be free of Canadian domination (HAHAHAHA!! Sorry, even in jest, it's hard to say that with a straight face) once Tsar Daley acquires the bomb.

After all, the modern nuclear age was born in the One's own neighborhood of Hyde Park at the University of Chicago. And we got the scientists at Fermi Lab to put them together.


Posted by: Chicounsel on December 29, 2008 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Proof positive that Russians who aren't America specialists don't know any more about America than Americans aren't Russia specialists know about Russia.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on December 29, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

The summary of Panarin's accusation that the U.S. is responsible for the instability in the Middle East and for the global financial crisis has some truth to it. But as usual for a Russian that idea overstates the power of national identity and rather ignores the fact that the growth of the general western industrial revolution is more the basic cause, with the U.S. merely being the most extreme of the industrial nations.

It's the western demand for oil that has destabilized the middle east. This is a direct outgrowth of industrialism. It has created extreme inequalities of wealth along with the tyrannical governments needed to maintain social stability when those extreme inequalities exist and are not supported by natural cultural and geographic reasons for stability. Since the oil companies have to have stable governments in order to exploit the oil, they essentially support and prop up those tyrannical governments - see Saudi Arabia, the Iranian government under the Shah, and Libya under King Idris who was overthrown by Khadaffi. But the same was true in the 19th and early 20th century in Egypt, only the international commodity then was cotton.

The financial system itself is a development of industrialism, and grew from the London and the U.S. banking system and the intellectual financial outgrowth if the industrial revolution. The U.S.'s college system has simply rationalized it to a greater extent than anywhere else in the world. It is unfortunately quite rickety.

The clearest example of the expansion of the western industrial system was the way it was in part fought over the middle east in WW I, more a European war than an American one. The USSR and Fascism were also outgrowths of WW I, Just as have been the unstable national systems throughout the middle east.

The somewhat separate issue of the instability of the U.S. is a European fantasy shared by Hitler who thought the many German-speaking Americans would support Nazi Germany in WW II (something us long-time Texans well understand was a fantasy.) The American elite was clearly afraid of exactly that when they interned the Japanese in WW II. It obviously didn't work out that way.

Although I still think that when the Texas Republic allowed the U.S. join it, the short-term face-saving gesture of the Texan negotiators to let the joint capital of Texas and its then new colonies be Washington, D.C. has had some unexpected long-term consequences. ;-)

Posted by: Rick B on December 29, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

The gentleman's ignorance is rather impressive and does indeed seem to be based on a weird mix of projection and bizarre assumptions. I cannot see the south of the US being part of Mexico or under Mexican influence alone.

I think he also misses another point - Americans don't like inconvenience or instability, and a split country would be a big pain.

Posted by: Steven Savage on December 29, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

I, for one, welcome our new Canadian overlords.

Posted by: Kent on December 29, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts

John Titor made the same prediction for nearly the same amount of time.

Posted by: Nautilator on December 29, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Rich is right- this would make a great game. Something like Risk or Diplomacy. Every player picks an outside nation or internal US faction and competes to see how many states they can grab. Russia vs Canada vs Mexico vs Texas vs the pope vs Microsoft. The loser gets Oklahoma.

Posted by: Tim H on December 29, 2008 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Whoah, the Russians are cheering on a US Civil War? Are they fucking nuts?

I can understand them being bitter towards the US, but they aren't thinking what their bit of shadenfreude will cost the world.

Posted by: Boronx on December 29, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Note about Texas: you don't need independence movements to increase in Texas, at least twice a week you can hear someone remark: "You know we can always secede from the union if we want." This usually follows some discussion of how out of wack the rest of the US is.

Geographically and culturally Texans are very isolated from the rest of the country. I mean, Louisiana to the east, Oklahoma to the north, Arkansas, New Mexico (okay New Mexico is cool).

It is just hard for most non-Texans to imagine how big the state is. From Austin, in the middle of the state, to Los Angeles, the half-way point is El Paso.

Talk about the US breaking up at this point in time is like suggesting that the EU will break up.

Posted by: tomj on December 29, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Kind of late to the party, if you ask me. Joel Garreau had most of this down and with greater precision in The Nine Nations of North America. Heck, there's even a Wikipedia entry on it. And really i fairness, with the GOP becoming the rebirth of the Dixiecrats, there is a plausibility in these regional realignments.

Posted by: Harris on December 29, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

“Wait - am I going to be living in part of Canada after this split occurs?”

Here, let me help you out; some phrases & concepts you should memorize and embrace:
- Toronto is the center of the Universe
- “Leafs suck!, Leafs suck!, Leafs suck!, Leafs suck!, Leafs suck!...”
- “Another great thing about vacationing in Cuba? No goddamn Americans!”
- “Can you loan me a Loonie? I wanna buy a can of pop.”

Posted by: Mr DeBakey on December 29, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

"OTOH, he still seems smarter than William Kristol.

Nice. You are welcome to visit the Emerald Empire of Northern California, Oregon & Washington anytime.

Posted by: Cazart on December 29, 2008 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

the Kremlin...has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis

That's supposed to show how out of it they are? Sounds pretty accurate to me.

Posted by: Juanita de Talmas on December 29, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Despite Panarin's obvious deficiencies, the fact that some idiots can promote a blatantly racist song like "Barack the Magic Negro" without being instantly frogmarched into public oblivion rates as a moral decline in this country that is shameful beyond belief.

A wry smile and a shrug just isn't good enough anymore, people. These bigots need to be hammered into the ground without mercy or it will never change.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on December 29, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

There's something to what Rand Careaga says - it might be fun yukking it up about how wrong this Russian guy is, but he looks a lot more like being right than Paul Wolfowitz was about Iraq, and Wolfowitz was supposed to be some kind of genius; at least in the estimation of his fellow neocons.

Don't make the mistake of focusing on Panarin's predicted secessional redistributions based on ethnicity; he's doubtless dead wrong about that. But considering he could not have foreseen the Bush presidency, it's creepy how accurate have been his visions of a decline in American influence worldwide. Even the most rabidly patriotic must admit the world no longer trembles when America shakes its fist, and quite a few snicker who would not have dared do so once upon a time.

For the record, I hope Obama can pull America out of its downward spiral. But a lot of you seem to think that's a certainty, when it is nothing of the kind. An AWFUL lot of damage must be put right first, and sober minds would do well to note such statistics as "worst annual economic decline since the 1930's" and solid performers like Toyota's first operational loss. Loading up the president-elect's plate with more regional conflicts, plus the possibility of a coordinated Middle Eastern response to Israel's latest Palestinian adventure, provides most unwelcome distractions at a time when domestic recovery is a major priority all its own.

In any case, you don't have room to be laughing at Panarin. You have plenty of your own supposed academics (not to mention economists) to laugh at, and you're a couple of years late getting started.

Posted by: Mark on December 29, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK



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