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Last night, Mikhail Gorbachev visited Louisville, and the bulk of the Patterson School braved deer filled roads to attend. I haven’t seen Gorbachev before, so I can’t say how much or whether last night’s talk varied from the speech that he normally gives, but I was a little bit surprised at the sharpness of his tone. Somewhere along the line he apparently became a strong environmentalist, and he criticized the Bush administration for inaction on Kyoto, global warming, and other development issues. His sharpest words, however, came when he began to discuss American primacy and the war in Iraq. In short, he holds the very sensible view that driving for American hegemony, especially through military means, is a project that is both doomed and likely to result in disaster.

Now, none of that is particularly radical or insightful, but I was kind of surprised that he had chosen a course of discussion that might well have produced an irritable American audience. Louisville does tend to be fairly liberal (not just for Kentucky), and perhaps Gorbachev’s handlers have a good sense of what the crowd is going to look like, but I had to wonder how his lecture would have gone if he’d given it in Dallas. As it was, there were certainly some uncomfortable people in the crowd, and at least one loud boo.

During the question-answer, Gorbachev received questions about the Arctic and his attitude towards Vladimir Putin. On the former he gave a very mealy-mouthed answer (“Needs more discussion”), while in response to the latter he expressed strong support for the President/Prime Minister-to-be. He also seemed to be in pretty good health, although it’s always hard to tell.

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