Satire on KGB spymaster echoes `Screwtape'
My Dear Alex, Letters from the KGB, by Dinesh D'Souza and Gregory Fossedal. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway. 118 pp. $14.95. Some of the most incisive criticism of liberal orthodoxy isn't coming from the conservative old guard; it is coming from the ranks of the ``Third Generation,'' conservative men and women so (self) described because they range in age from their mid-20s to early 30s. Two of the ``Third Generation's'' most successful and prolific critics are Gregory Fossedal and Dinesh D'Souza, who, with ``My Dear Alex,'' continue what they began in college at the conservative Dartmouth Review: taking liberalism's most deeply held pieties and destroying them not so much by rigorous argument, as by making you laugh at them.
``My Dear Alex'' is a collection of letters from Vladimir, an old KGB hand, to his young charge in the United States. Vladimir trains Alex, a committed Marxist-Leninist, former intern at Pravda, and graduate of the Lenin School, in the arts of deception and salesmanship from Ronald Reagan's first to second election. Above all, Alex learns that he must not describe himself as a communist. He must ``reject labels,'' because ``they don't mean much anymore.'' His job is to become a better liberal than, say, Sen. Edward Kennedy, by skillfully using all the buzzwords and bromides in the liberal lexicon.
When Alex lands in the US, he wears rayon suits (and, presumably, white socks) and pounds a Khrushchevian fist at cocktail parties. ``My Dear Alex, Disturbing reports are beginning to pile up on my desk about your performance at Norman Lear's reception. ... I will admit ... the hors d'oeuvres were excessive.... Even so, you had no call to hurl your wine glass onto the floor and launch into a diatribe on `the starving infants of Africa and India.''' And he crassly quotes Pravda: ``The final victory of socialism is guaranteed by the internal contradictions within the capitalist system.''
Gradually, he improves as a propagandist by playing Vladimir's game ``Feelings,'' in which he practices using big words to make meaningless phrases, and in turn, vintage liberal cant. It isn't long before Alex is writing brilliantly in the New York Times about ``diverse, harmonious networks,'' ``profound, interpersonal dialogue'' and ``mutual, humane awareness.''
The authors go on to poke fun at stock-in-trade, ``unrealistic'' (to use one of their buzzwords) liberal beliefs. ``Alex, hard as it is for you to understand, you must insist that our Soviet leaders are frightened fellows, haunted by memories of World War II. George Kennan, the American diplomat ... describes our leaders as possessed by `a congenital sense of insecurity,' and `a neurotic fear of penetration.''' Later on, Vladimir quotes the New York Times's Craig Whitney: ``Seen from the inside, the Soviet motivation [in Afghanistan] seems more like military defensiveness, caused by historic Russian fear of encirclement by hostile forces ... Gromyko seemed almost obsessed by a threat to Soviet security from the United States and China.'' The point is well made.
Fossedal and D'Souza don't stop with observing that the Soviets influence liberals by using their lingo. Vladimir sends to Alex the ``Gorbachev rating ... my little chart [that] traces the degree to which liberal foreign and defense policy is in concert with state Soviet policy.'' The chart shows how Ronald Reagan, Tip O'Neill, and Mikhail Gorbachev line up on important issues like the Pershing missile deployment: Reagan, yes; O'Neill, no; Gorbachev, no. Cruise missile deployment: Reagan, yes; O'Neill, no; Gorbachev, no. And so it goes for the neutron bomb, aid to the contras, the Grenada intervention, SDI, aid to the anti-Soviet Angolan rebels.
The authors use C.S. Lewis's ``Screwtape Letters'' as a model, and it's worth citing one passage from that work. Screwtape begins one letter to Wormwood, ``I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence.... Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.'' How skillfully real propagandists like Vladimir Posner (is he the Vladimir in ``My Dear Alex''?) and Georgi Arbatov have concealed themselves by ``rejecting labels,'' so the US and Soviet Union can engage in ``meaningful, open dialogue''!
R.Cort Kirkwood works for the Washington-based wire service American Press International.