Archive for the ‘Putin’ Category

The Origins of Putinophilia

May 19, 2014

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There is a growing divide in the U.S. Left, between those who simply oppose U.S. intervention in Ukraine, and those who defend, or even praise, Russia’s strongman, Vladimir Putin. Things haven’t always been like this. If I remember correctly, during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, only the Workers World Party and its front groups defended Saddam Hussein. The rest of the left had no illusions about the dictator. I think a change began in the Left after the anti-war movement failed to prevent the invasion. There began to be talk about a “red-brown” strategy, that is, forming alliances with right-wing, or even fascist, groups that claim to be opposed to U.S. imperialism. The thinking was that the Left by itself was not strong enough, or maybe not committed enough, to successfully struggle against imperialism. And if it is permissible to work with groups with terrible politics, then it is permissible to support governments with terrible politics. Thus, it became possible to see any dictator who ran afoul of the US as an ally against imperialism. Gadaffi and Assad were now on our side, according to this view.

Putin has acquired a special place in these people’s eyes. During Russia’s 2008 border war with Georgia, Bush was unable to do anything. Many on the Left saw this as a humiliation for the hated Bush. (Although I suspect that Bush really didn’t care.) So now Putin can do no wrong in their eyes. He can imprison his critics and persecute gays and ethnic minorities, and they will simply explain it away or ignore it. And as Putin has grown a halo, Obama has become the embodiment of pure evil in these people’s eyes. John Pilger, for example, has claimed, on the basis of no evidence, that Obama was plotting to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea and start a war. How can anyone take this seriously?

If the Left is to avoid becoming completely irrelevant, it needs to return to the principled anti-imperialism of the past.

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Chicken Little Comes to CounterPunch

May 15, 2014

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John Pilger

The May 14th edition of CounterPunch has an article by John Pilger with the ominous title of A World War is Beckoning. Pilger begins by asking a couple of rhetorical questions:

    Why do we ­tolerate the threat of ­another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk?

Uh, maybe because there is no threat of another world war in our name? I suspect that isn’t the answer that Pilger wants to hear. Later on, he writes:

    For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is ­threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler.

Pilger needs to get a grip. Placing mild economic sanctions on Russia is not “threatening to take the world to war”.

    Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s ­historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed.

There is evidence that the US has meddled in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that the US “masterminded the coup in February”. And he offers no evidence for his amazing claim that US planned to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea. This would have been an act of war, not to mention an incredibly stupid thing to do.

This is an example of the Chicken Little argument that has become popular among the Left in recent years. For the past three years some on the Left have been screaming that Obama wants to go to war with Syria, yet said war has failed to materialize. We need to try to understand what the people in power are actually trying to do, rather than just assume that they have the most evil intentions imaginable.

There is a good deal that the Obama administration can be criticized for in this situation. And too many people in the media have given Obama a pass on this. (Even worse, some of them have urged the president to “get tough” with Putin.) There needs to be a congressional investigation of the role that the State Department and the CIA have played in the recent events in Ukraine. I’m afraid, however, that this will probably never happen. (Because, you know, Benghazi is far more important.)

Gilad Atzmon and Veterans Today Declare War on the Weimar Republic

April 5, 2014

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I was looking at CounterPunch the other day, and I noticed an article by Eugene Schulman entitled “What Heidegger Hysteria Tells Us About the Press”. This piqued my curiosity, so I read it. The article turned out to be only tangentially about Heidegger. It’s main argument is that the New York Times is pro-Israel. (The late Alexander Cockburn made this point about ten million times. I guess Schulman must be new to CounterPunch.) I did find one passage interesting:

    In a recent article published at the Veterans Today website controversial author of “The Wandering Who?”, Gilad Atzmon, takes to task The Guardian newspaper for an article criticizing the publication of Martin Heidegger’s ‘black notebooks’. Heidegger was one of the 20th Century’s most famous philosophers, almost best known for having joined the Nazi party during the war years [Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933] and, thus, gaining the reputation for being anti-Semitic.

I guess that’s what happens when you join the Nazi Party. Anyway, the article provides a link to Veterans Today (which I had never heard of before). I must guiltily confess that I gave in to my morbid sense of curiosity and clicked on it. VT calls itself a “Military & Foreign Affairs Journal”, and it tells us that it has been serving “Military & Veterans for 40+ Years”. Among other things, it provides job listings for veterans and information for how veterans can get loans. Atzmon’s article is titled “The Banality Of The Guardian Of Judea”. In it, he defends Heidegger from the accusation of anti-Semitism. I found this passage particularly interesting:

    Heidegger was a German patriot. As such he knew very well that it was Zionist leadership and German Jewish bankers in America that facilitated the entry of the USA into the first world war (in return in part for the 1917’s Belfour Declaration that promised a national home for Jews in Palestine). In that regard, Heidegger, like his contemporaries, had good reason to believe that Germany was betrayed by its Jewish elite.

There you have it: the “stabbed in the back” lie, dusted off and presented to American military veterans.

My morbid sense of curiosity was now in overdrive. I searched around the VT website. I found out that VT is big on 9/11 conspiracy theories. (One recent article is titled “Malaysian plane disappearance linked to 9/11”). They like Vladimir Putin a lot. I also found an article by someone named Jonas E. Alexis titled “Hitler and Germany’s Sexual Question (Part II)”. It’s a rambling, somewhat confusing article, but it makes clear that Alexis doesn’t care much for Weimar Germany:

    Theater in Germany began to produce films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), directed and written by Jewish producers Robert Wiene and Hans Janowitz. This particular film was teleological in nature: it was supposed to hypnotize audiences in an expressionist and psychoanalytic form.

    Other films of the same genre included Carl Mayer’s The Last Laugh (1924), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Madchen in Uniform (1931), and Kuhle Wampe (1932).[14] Madchen in Uniform was an explicitly pro-lesbian film, something that was completely contrary to the Prussian education system at the time, and many of the cast in the movie were Jewish.

Yes, we’ve got to point out those Jews, don’t we? Alexis adds:

    Madchen in Uniform became a symbol for feminist movements in the 1970s, one of the weapons used against the existing culture. Moreover, Jewish film directors and producers, like many current Jewish directors in Hollywood (Eli Roth and David Cronenberg come to mind), knew that they were indirectly changing the social and cultural mode of Germany.

Huh? Do Roth and Cronenberg have a time machine? Later on, Alexis writes:

    This anger [Hitler’s] began to escalate after World War I when he [Hitler] saw what was happening in the press and theatre in Germany, when art in general was being used to denigrate the German culture.

    What perhaps moved Hitler’s anger to a new height was that the Jews were less than three percent of the population, yet they largely controlled the theatre and were promoting what he would call “filth” and “pornography.”

    For Hitler, these acts “must have been definitely intentional.” Moreover, he got first-hand knowledge after World War I that pornography was almost exclusively a Jewish phenomenon.

It’s interesting to note that Alexis is black. I wonder if Alexis has ever done any research on Hitler’s views on blacks. (Another black contributor to VT is H. K. Edgerton. VT tells us that he does “Confederate street preaching for the South”.)

I looked at the page listing the editorial board for VT. They list as a board member, Lt. General Hamid Gul, who, they claim, is “Director General ISI (Former Chief of Intelligence Services, Pakistan)”. About another board member, we are told:

    Gordon Duff is an accredited diplomat and is generally accepted as one of the top global intelligence specialists. He manages the world’s largest private intelligence organization and regularly consults with governments challenged by security issues.

I bet. I noticed that one of VT’s Iran bureau chiefs just happens to be none other than our old friend, Ismail Salami. (Small world, isn’t it?) One frequent contributor to VT is Franklin Lamb, who is also a frequent contributor to CounterPunch.

According to Quantcast.com, Veterans Today receives a little more than 377,000 views a month in the U.S. That is close to the number of views that CounterPunch receives each month (386,400). It is substantially more than the number of views that Dissident Voice, which also posts articles by Atzmon and Salami, receives (35,600).

I’m not sure what exactly to make of these numbers, but one thing clear to me is that Gilad Atzmon has found a warm, welcoming, safe space.

Sense and Nonsense about Crimea

March 2, 2014

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The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has predictably created confusion in the West. The New York Times reports:

    Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he consulted on Saturday with Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the committee, about targeted sanctions against individuals in the Putin government and possibly Russian institutions. The proposal could be taken up as early as this week.

    Mr. Corker was one of the few Republicans in September to support a Senate resolution authorizing airstrikes in Syria, and he said the failure of Washington to follow through on those strikes had emboldened Mr. Putin.

    “Ever since the administration threw themselves in his arms in Syria to keep from carrying out what they said they would carry out, I think he’s seen weakness,” Mr. Corker said Saturday. “These are the consequences.”

This is a stupid argument. Putin knows perfectly well that the U.S. is not going to attack Russia, for the obvious reason that Russia has nuclear weapons. The idea that Putin would be shitting in his pants if the U.S. had dropped some bombs on Damascus is simply childish. Putin decided to seize an opportunity that the chaos in Ukraine created for him. It’s that simple.

The Guardian isn’t much more helpful. An editorial states:

    What is hard to see, having been so effectively outmanoeuvred over the last two days, is how the US and EU should respond beyond futile expressions of concern and outrage. Equally, it is clear that when western political institutions have attempted to penetrate Russia’s neighbours – the suggestion of Nato expansion in Georgia, and closer EU integration for Ukraine – Moscow has pushed back hard on both occasions.

So, what should we do? They tell us:

    One thing is certain: the current crisis presents the biggest threat to security in Europe since the Balkan wars, and western leaders, including Obama and David Cameron (who has spoken to Putin on the phone), have hardly been impressive in their response, demonstrating a weak grasp on the events unfolding. For now, Putin is ahead of the game. It is time for the international community to catch up.

Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? The international community needs to catch up with Russia – whatever the hell that means.

A few things are clear. Crimea is of no strategic importance to the U.S. Although there are concerns about Crimea’s Tatars, there are no signs of a humanitarian crisis at this point. President Obama can only object to Russia’s seizure of Crimea on the narrow grounds that it violates international law. The problem is that the U.S. regularly violates international law with its drone attacks. And the invasion of Iraq was a violation on a far greater scale than what is currently happening in Crimea. International law is a useful tool that we have thoughtlessly thrown away.

Obama’s Speech on Syria

September 11, 2013

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The speech that President Obama just gave on Syria was a depressing example of the empty rhetoric and hypocritical moral posturing that make up the political discourse in this country. He begins by saying:

    Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement. But I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.

Images of people killed by conventional bombs are every bit as sickening as the images described here. So what is it that makes chemical warfare a “crime against humanity”? It’s not until the middle of the next paragraph that Obama tries to give an answer to that question:

    Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant…

Conventional weapons can also kill on a mass scale, and they also do not distinguish between soldier and infant. The idea that chemical weapons are more inhumane than other weapons has no basis in fact. If there is anything peculiarly destructive about chemical weapons, it is the fact that some chemicals, such as Agent Orange, can linger in the environment and do long-term damage. (Although I’m guessing that Obama doesn’t consider Agent Orange to be a chemical weapon.)

Obama cites two examples from history of the use of chemical weapons:

    In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.

Obama conveniently neglects to mention that Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds and Iranians, back when he was still a U.S. ally. The president at that time was Ronald Reagan, a man for whom Obama has expressed great admiration. (I think it worth noting here that during World War I, more people were killed by artillery and machine guns than by deadly gas.)

The President goes on to say:

    When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. [Uh, you mean like Saddam Hussein?] But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it. Because what happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

    Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.

This is a sophisticated reformulation of the “if we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here” argument that was wildly popular back when G.W. Bush was in the White House. First of all, our troops already face the prospect of chemical warfare, which is why they are trained in the use of gas masks. I think it a fair guess that many governments – dictatorships or otherwise – possess chemical weapons of one kind or another, regardless of any treaties. As for terrorists getting a hold of chemical weapons, that is a real possibility, I’m afraid, but it would be naïve to think that bombing Syria is going to prevent any possibility of that happening.

    If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon [which is not against international law], or to take a more peaceful path.

So, this is really about Iran? Obama thinks that if he kills a bunch of Syrians, this will convince the Iranians that they shouldn’t build any nuclear weapons? Might not the Iranians draw the exact opposite conclusion? They might decide they need nuclear weapons so the U.S. won’t attack them the way it did Syria.

The President’s speech ends on an optimistic note. He tells us he has decided to postpone asking Congress to authorize the use of force, so he can pursue a proposal by Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons so they can be destroyed. It appears that Putin has saved Obama from the humiliation of Congress voting down the authorization. Bullshit can only get you so far in this world. Obama has once again benefited from dumb luck.