- Behind the Desert Storm: A Secret Archive Stolen from the Kremlin That Sheds New Light on the Arab Revolutions in the Middle East by Pavel Stroilov
I first heard of Pavel Stroilov in an article published by Claire Berlinski in the spring 2010 issue of The City Journal titled "A Hidden History of Evil: Why Doesn't Anyone Care about the Unread Soviet Archives?" The article describes Stroilov's claim that he had exploited a computer flaw and stolen thousands of pages of documents from the archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. These documents, the article claims, portrayed Mikhail Gorbachev as an evil and menacing manipulator and shed light on unsavory aspects of the end of the Cold War that allegedly would be highly embarrassing for many a retired statesman. Berlinski, who seemed unaware of the vast amount of scholarship that has been published based on research in the Russian archives, also maintained that Stroilov had approached Yale University Press to publish a book about the First Gulf War but that something supposedly "frightened" then-editor Jonathan Brent so that Stroilov "never heard from Brent again."
Stroilov later shared his manuscript with me. I could immediately see why Yale University Press would not want to publish it, though I kept my reservations to myself out of politeness. Subsequently, Stroilov's book came out with Price World Publishing, a low-budget press that specializes in weight-training and fitness books published under titles like 6 Weeks to 6-Pack Abs, Gluteus to the Maximus, and Muscle Explosion. This is Price World's first foray into history. My impression after reading the final product is that the publisher would have done well to stick with its usual fare. Stroilov's book, despite its outstanding documentary base (of which I will say more below), is a disaster.
Stroilov believes he has uncovered an international conspiracy—chiefly directed by Gorbachev, but with the assistance of U.S. President George H. W. Bush—aimed at returning Israel to its 1947 borders as a quid pro quo for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. Gorbachev's anti-Jewish "socialist jihad" was part and parcel of his mission of "conquering the world" by using the "Red Arabs" of the Middle East, especially the Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans, and Egyptians, as his proxies. Bush (who, Stroilov suggests at one point, was Gorbachev's "agent") was duped into playing along because he was so heavily invested in building a "new world order" (p. 167). To this end, Bush bartered [End Page 266] away "common sense, decency, and national interest," falling into Gorbachev's hideous trap and incurring "debts," which the United States subsequently tried to repay by bolstering the remaining "Red Arabs" at the expense of Muslim democrats, Egyptian Christians, and, needless to say, the Israelis, whom Washington repeatedly "betrayed" (e.g., pp. 223, 323, 345). A Masonic conspiracy (p. 60) also factors into the story.
Devoid of any scholarly analysis, the book is full of nonsense, some of it derived from far-fetched interpretations of Stroilov's source material and some borrowed from popular conspiracy theories. Fortunately, Stroilov is relatively brief with his own comments. Most of the book is made up of verbatim transcripts of documents, including memoranda of Gorbachev's conversations with foreign leaders, Politburo transcripts, and various enlightening notes penned by Gorbachev's chief foreign policy aide, Anatolii Chernyaev, and by other officials. Although excerpted and often cited out of context, these documents offer an interesting glimpse into the dynamic of Gorbachev's policymaking and disclose hitherto unknown aspects of Soviet diplomacy during the first Gulf War.
Perhaps the most interesting documents are those that show Gorbachev's eleventh-hour efforts to broker Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, especially his memoranda of conversations with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in September 1990 and February 1991. Gorbachev comes across as deeply hostile to the expanding U.S. presence in the Gulf, as he pleads with Aziz not to give the Americans a pretext for launching...