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Useful Idiots: Addled by Anti-Americanism

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Russian Orthodox fascists march in the streets of Moscow.
Russian Orthodox fascists march in the streets of Moscow.

In Eating Nuland's freedom cookies, Brooks Kind takes up the discussion on Ukraine that I have previously written about in Elections and Politics: Learning to draw correct conclusions, Drinking the Kool-Aid: Intoxicated on delusion, and Ideology versus Reason: How abandoning evidence leads to absurdity on the Halifax Media Co-op.

There are a number of points in Kind's comments, some valid and interesting; some abject nonsense. In general they are predicated on three fundamental blunders that Mr. Kind shares with a number of commentators:

1) Subsuming the legitimate concerns of Ukrainian people with respect to their desire to have an independent state, create a democratic, civil society free of corruption, and develop closer ties with the European Union (EU), to considerations of great power politics, i.e., does Vladimir Putin have "legitimate fears and interests" that allow him to crush the aspirations of an independent state simply because it happens to be located in his geographical neighbourhood? I maintain that he does not; Kind argues that he does.

2) A complete misunderstanding of Ukraine's Euromaidan Movement, in which over a million people rose up across the length and breadth of their country, rejecting corruption and kleptocracy, in their desire for a civil society that authentically reflected their desires for material, moral, and spiritual dignity. This takes the form of swallowing Kremlin-directed disinformation and propaganda that casts this authentic uprising as a neo-Nazi, infested American plot (wow! ;~>). Even though none of this is true -- and there is a mass evidence to demonstrate its falsity -- such claims are repeated over and over again, making them no less false but increasingly idiotic.

3) As pointed out by Professor Stephan Velychenko of the University of Toronto, there is a history of leftists who fail to understand the distinction between Anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism. This myopic focus "classifies imperialism as a singular specific American rather than global phenomenon" and, in the case of Ukraine leads such leftists to swallow Russian disinformation and propaganda hook line and sinker in the erroneous belief that the enemies of your enemies must be your friends.

Briefly, in response to some of Mr. Kind's specific contentions:

1) Ukraine

The subject of this discussion concerns Ukraine. There are many other valid and important political subjects in the world related to the history of US imperialism, NATO, Syria, Gaza, Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Canada's role in international issues, etc. It's not possible to write about all of them simultaneously. In my case:

• US Imperialism? Read Death in Yemen, Disillusion and drones in the desert, my article about US imperialism and militarism in this one country, based (in part) on my collaboration with Yemeni activist Farea Al-Muslimi who testified before the US Senate about the targeted killing by US drones in Yemen.

• Syria? Read Syria – There must be some way out of here, my article that examines the ideas proposed by Cengiz Candar of Radikal Daily in Turkey, Raghida Dergham a correspondent with Al Hayat (a leading pan-Arab publication), and Safeen Muhsin Dizayee of the Kurdish Democratic Party with respect to the Syrian political situation; or Much confusion, no relief: The endless Syrian quagmire, an examination of both Russian and American contentions with respect to Syria and ideas on how the unending Syrian crisis might be resolved.

• Canadian government's folly? Read, Resource capitulation: FIPPA, fibs, and Canadian sellouts, my article on the "gangster capitalism" of the Harper governments in pursuing international trade deals like the China-Canada Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.

I don't have experience or expertise on Gaza, Congo, Haiti, or Honduras. When I do, I'll be certain to write on them. In the meantime I look forward to Mr. Kind's articles on these topics.

2) Ukraine and Ukrainians

Something stunningly absent in Mr. Kind's view of the situation in Ukraine, is what Ukrainian people want. His sole focus is on Ukraine as a shadow play of great power politics and who (America or Russia) should control the destiny of Ukranians. Apparently the will and right of the 45,590,000 people of Ukraine, living in a land with a thousand year history, and their desires to live in a civil society, determining their own future, free of kleptocracy, cronyism, foreign domination, invasion, and annexations, are considered irrelevant by such commentators. They know little about these and care nothing for them. They are cast aside by Mr. Kind as meaningless as opposed to "Russia's legitimate fears and its interests" -- precisely the kind of imperialist thinking that he condemns on the part of the Americans. Astonishing.

As the prominent Ukrainian-Canadian writer Myrna Kostash has written, in her article My Maidan:

"I see a pattern...that has been repeated as Canadian progressives have weighed in on the meaning of Euromaidan, winter 2013-2014. The same skepticism about the spontaneity of such courageous self-organization, the same implication of dark European- or U.S.-based conspiracies behind it, the same solicitude for Russian imperial interests, the same uncritical transmission of anti-Ukrainian propaganda, the same lack of solidarity with the desire and will of masses of people from all parts of Ukraine for a life of material, moral and spiritual dignity." 

Moreover, the sole focus of such commentators on anti-Americanism (a legitimate concern), blinds them to the dangers of any other malevolent forces in the world.  There is a long and sad history of leftists misunderstanding the difference between anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism, with a resulting knee-jerk anti-Americanism and a gullible predisposition to Russian disinformation and propaganda.

As Stephen Velychenko has written in The Strange Case of Foreign Pro Russian Radical Leftists:

"Alongside issues such as Russophilism, material interest and simple ignorance, another explanation for this double standard is that such radical leftists analyze events in terms of anti-Americanism rather than anti-imperialism. This attitude makes them as amenable to Russian anti Ukrainian pronouncements, both official governmental and non-governmental, after 1991 as they were before 1991. Anti Americanism is a set of beliefs that classifies imperialism as a singular specific American rather than global phenomenon and discounts or ignores competition between imperialists and intra capitalist rivalries."

I concluded my article  Crisis in Ukraine: Disinformation and useful idiots by writing:

"There's no pleasure or honour in being a stooge of American propaganda, however being duped by Russian propaganda is no better. Manipulation is manipulation, no matter who the manipulator is. Useful idiots are held in contempt and cynically exploited by their masters. They believe you can be fooled all of the time. Critical thinking, independent corroboration, fact checking, confirmation of sources, trusted and reliable sources, determining plausibility, thorough background information, first-hand experience, evidence-based reasoning all are techniques to fight back."

Unfortunately, blinkered as they are, Messers Wysocki, Vaughn, and Kind seem unable or unwilling to grasp that evidence, reason, and critical thinking can liberate one from being a useful idiot of any propaganda. Pity.

3) NATO

Clearly an important subject. Unfortunately Mr. Kind's understanding of the issue borders on the cartoonish. Let me point out several things:

• Vladimir Putin himself has in the past expressed interest in having Russian join NATO (for example, see here and here). In response to questions by Dutch journalists, Putin said:

"We are actively developing relations with both organizations, NATO and especially the European Union. We need to understand what we are going to join if this becomes relevant, and what objectives we will pursue in this organization. We do not perceive NATO as a hostile organization. We develop cooperation with it."

• As I have pointed out in Blundering in Ukraine: Putin's strategic debacle:

Russia's Crimean annexation and overt military interference in the Donbas has significantly boosted the popularity of NATO in Ukraine. As recently as four years ago PEW Research found that 40 per cent of Ukrainians regarded NATO as a threat, 51 per cent opposed NATO membership, and only 28 per cent were in favour of it (and other polls found levels of support as low as 12.5 per cent). However, polling conducted in June 2014 by the Gorshenin Institute found that support for NATO in Ukraine had increased to 47.3 per cent. Putin's military adventurism and belligerence has driven the Ukrainian public in precisely the opposite direction.

Furthermore, this Russian adventurism is propelling formerly neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden to consider NATO membership. Even if they do not, the mistrust generated in the Nordic countries (as well as the Baltic states and the Caucuses) by the annexation of Crimea and Russia's military and political interference on the territory of a neighbouring state, is apt to persist for years, if not decades -- all significant setbacks to the Putin agenda.

• Finally, it's important to underscore that rather than the "absorption" terminology favoured by Mr. Kind in relation to NATO, countries that have joined NATO -- for example Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia -- have not had their arms twisted by anyone to become part of the alliance. Freed from the Soviet yoke they made their own independent decisions. And they did so, in large measure motivated by their own bitter, tragic, and painful experiences with Russian imperialism. Does Mr. Kind recall the annexations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in 1940 by Russia under the aegis of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact? Does he recall the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 by a Soviet invasion? Does he remember the annihilation of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968 by armies of the Warsaw Pact, lead by the Soviet Union? Seemingly not.

4) The Euromaidan Movement

Here is where Mr. Kind's understanding of events goes utterly off the rails. There was no US-backed uprising to depose the corrupt Yanukovitch regime; the Euromaidan movement, in which over a million Ukrainians participated in Euromaidan demonstrations in at least 33 centers across the length and breadth of the country, was a broadly based, populist mass uprising. Repeating utterly fallacious Kremlin propaganda (see Crisis in Ukraine: Disinformation and useful idiots) over and over doesn't make it more true, just more idiotic.

There is no "neo-Nazi "infestation" of the Euromaidan movement. The extreme-right wing Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) party made up a miniscule (if highly visible) component of protests on Kijv's Maidan Nezheleznosti square. They were absent in the 32 or so other centers in Ukraine where the Euromaidan movement flourished. A definitive and empirical demonstration of how little support they have in Ukraine was the last presidential election in which their leader, Dmytro Yarosh, garnered 0.70 percent of the vote. Is 0.70 per cent support an infestation? It's more the case that Mr. Kind's imagination has become infested with bogeymen.

N.B. The use of the term "useful idiot" has specific historical antecedents, which are precisely the ones that I am refereeing to my usage of this term in this and other articles on the subject of Ukraine. See the Wikipedia article referenced above for more information.

As regards to development assistance supplied by the US to Ukraine since 1991 (Mr. Kind's "Nuland's Freedom Cookies"); cant and innuendo are one thing; evidence is another. Here's a challenge for Mr. Kind, if there is actual evidence that this aid was used in some objectionable way, please provide it. We're all ears.

[A parenthetical comment: Gentle reader, note how many sources are referenced in Kind's comments? Zero. How many sources are referenced in Vaughn's Neither/Nor comments? Zero. How many sources are references in Wysocik's comments here or here? Zero. How many actual facts, data, polling results, or the like are reported? None. In contrast, look at the sources and data presented in this article and preceding pieces. Readers can drill deeper into the information and check the sources on which my conclusions are based. This is the difference between unsupported assertions and evidence-based reasoning.]

5) Fascists and Neo-Nazis

Commentators like Mr. Kind's delight in tossing about characterizations like "fascist" and "neo-Nazi" in regard to Ukraine where there are ultra right-wing fringe movements such as Pravy Sektor, which received 0.70 per cent of the vote (see above), and Svoboda (Freedom), whose leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, garnered 1.16 per cent of the vote in the last election. This is meant to tar the entire Euromaidan Movement.

As I pointed out in Blundering in Ukraine: Putin's strategic debacle these levels of support are far less than extremist right-wing parties received in the 2014 European Parliament elections (i.e., in France the right-wing National Front received 24.9 percent of the vote; in Greece the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party received 9.4 per cent; in Denmark the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party took 26.6 per cent; in Austria the far-right Freedom Party received 19.7 per cent support, while in Hungary the neo-fascist Jobbnik party took 14.7 per cent.)

Thus, by Mr. Kind's calculus, France, Greece, Denmark, Austria, and Hungary must therefore all be Neo-Nazi, fascist states, right? Indeed, they must be über-fascist states since extremist right-wing parties there all received between 10 to 15 times the level of support they did in Ukraine, right? ;~>

Furthermore, they also conveniently ignore the substantial extreme right-wing ideologues and parties in Russia itself, not cast to the margins of political life as in Ukraine, but in the very heart of the Putin administration. As I pointed out in, Drinking the Kool-Aid: Intoxicated on delusion, such commentators show no concern whatever for avowed Russian fascists like as Alexander Dugin, such a far-right extremist that he quit the explicitly neo-Nazi National Bolshevik party which he helped found (whose "intellectual oasis" is the Waffen-SS), to form the even more extreme National Bolshevik Front! And Dugin is not cast into the political wilderness in contemporary Russia -- he serves as an advisor to Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the State Duma, the Russian Parliament! Or of the über-communist and neo-Stalinist Sergei Kurginyan with his paramilitary Kurginyan Army and Essence of Time movement determined to create a USSR 2.0. Why the double standards? Why the asymmetry of concern?

6) Crimea

Mr. Kind's understanding of Crimea is no better than his understanding of Euromaidan. See my article Ukraine on the brink for a history of Crimea and an analysis of the contemporary situation.  In terms of Crimea's history, as I point out in the article:

"There's probably no place on earth that has changed hands so frequently as Crimea. Known in antiquity as Taurica, it has variously been ruled by Cimmerians, Sythians, Bulgars, Greeks, Goths, Huns, Khazars, the Kievan Rus', Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, Ottoman Turks, the Tatars of the Golden Horde, Mongols, Venetians, Genoese, the Crimean Khanate, the Imperial Russians, the Soviet Union, and the Nazi Germans before finally coming to rest in the lap of Ukraine in 1954."

Although 58 per cent of the Crimean population are ethnic Russians, 24 per cent Ukrainians, 12 per cent Crimean Tatars, and 6 per cent descend from other nationalities including Belarusians, Armenians, Jews, and Greeks, at the time of Ukrainian independence a majority of 54 per cent of the population voted to become a part of the state of Ukraine.

The future disposition of Crimea should be a matter for Crimea and Ukraine to determine -- not me, not Mr. Kind, and certainly not Vladimir Putin. As I wrote in The invasion of Crimea: What should we do?:

"There are a substantial majority of ethnic Russians in Crimea, and far be it from anyone outside to interfere in their rights to self-determination. There are, however, valid constitutional ways of proceeding, and utterly fraudulent ones.

"Imagine the outrage if we awoke one morning to discover that France had militarily occupied Québec, was calling a referendum in two weeks in which the choices on the ballot were "Yes" and "Sort-of Yes", where there was no voter's list, and the results in Québec City showed a 123 per cent voter turn out. This is precisely the situation that Ukraine finds itself in today."

In fact a report from Vladimir Putin's own "President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights" reported that the turnout in the Crimean "referendum" was only 30 per cent of the population, of which approximately half supported Russia's annexation, i.e., only 15 per cent of Crimean citizen's actually voted for annexation! (N.B. This information was apparently released to the public by mistake, since after it began to circulate and draw commentary, the report was speedily taken down by the Kremlin. ;~>).

7) Vladimir Putin

Kind characterizes Putin's violations of international law in annexation of Crimea as "barely a footnote" in the course of "protecting (his) interests and addressing security concerns." Perhaps to Kind it is so: to the people of Crimea and Ukraine this footnote is more like a boot-print -- on their necks. A violation of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, the Helsinki Accords, and the United Nations Charter on the territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers? No problem! Such international agreements are all "footnotes" under the heel of Vladimir Putin, right? And if Ukrainians and Crimeans feel some discomfort under this boot, well that's unfortunate. Vladimir Putin has legitimate interests that need addressing, right? ;~>

Thus, despite Putin's annexations of Georgian and Ukrainian territory (see Ukraine on the Brink), his clear violation of the Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances, his brutal razed-earth destruction of the Chechen nation in their quest for independence, his suppression of democracy, his shameful campaign against the LGBT community in Russia, his persecution of dissident artists (e.g., Pussy Riot), his close relations with the most retrograde of Russian Orthodox religious authorities, and parliamentary advisers like Alexander Dugin (see above), commentators like Kind appear to regard Vladimir Putin is a progressive force in the world, and a person whose word is to be trusted and believed. Despite all of this, Kind says, "it is hard to overstate the great restraint of Putin's action." I'm not making this up -- great restraint!

Finally as regards to the analogy between Hitler's annexation of the Sudentenland and Putin's annexation of Crimea; and Hitler's invasion of Poland and Putin's invasion of eastern Ukraine, the former articulated in purported defense of German-speakers; the latter articulated in purported defense of Russian-speakers: instead of running and hiding from the comparison, and invoking abstract concepts like "imperialist's favourite meme", I challenge Mr. Kind to instead specifically articulate, using evidence-based reasoning, precisely how Hitler and Putin's actions differ from one another?  How, objectively, are they at variance? I'm not referring to Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi or Bashar al-Assad (upstanding citizens though they may be), invoked for no apparent reason by Mr. Kind, but specifically to the historical incidents (Sudentenland & Crimea; Poland & Ukraine) cited above? As I pointed out, in 1939 Hitler also had apologists. ;~>

I'm part Polish, part Ukrainian, part Russian, part Austrian, and all Canadian. What we, as citizens able to speak, write, and assemble freely, need to do is articulate the unvarnished truth. We need to rely on evidence, reason, and evidence-based reasoning. As I wrote previously:

"This isn't a rhetorical game to be played for the benefit armchair analysts; people are dying every day on the frontiers of Ukraine for the sake of democracy. We owe them the highest standards of respect for evidence, fact, reason and the truth."


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Comments

doubling down on double standards

re "We owe them the highest standards of respect for evidence, fact, reason and the truth."

I agree.  Unfortunately, taking the word of the American government when it says it is "promoting democracy" at face value does not indicate respect for evidence, quite the opposite.  All historical evidence indicates that the $5 billion Victoria Nuland boasted of spending on "democracy promotion" in the Ukraine would most likely have been intended to undermine Ukrainian democracy.  I suggest Mr Majka look into the origins and history of the National Endowment for Democracy which has listed 65 projects in the Ukraine.  Similarly, the fact that Putin once said that he did not regard NATO as a threat, is evidence neither of the danger NATO actually poses to Russia, nor of whether Putin does not now or even did not then regard NATO as threat.

What is "cartoonish" is to pretend - to repeat myself - that the grotesque anachronism that is NATO is anything other than a US-dominated, aggressive military alliance, an appendage of US empire, an engine of global militarism, a boondoggle for the US arms industry and a major threat,  not just to Russia, but to world peace, international law and any government that falls afoul of Washington.  If the expansion of NATO to the east, right up to Russia's borders, in violation of solemn diplomatic pleges, along with the eastern expansion of the US network of military bases, the deployment of Aegis destroyers in the Black Sea, and first-strike missile defense systems in Poland, Turkey and Romania, were not regarded by Putin as extremely dangerous and threatening, he would be insane.  Of course he is not, he has recognized the threat and responded by drawing a red line around Crimea.  This has outraged many western liberals who deny the existence of a US/NATO threat and would harken back to Hungary in 1956 or Estonia in 1940 in search of Putin's nefarious motivations rather than look at the ruins of Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan right in front of their eyes as US empire runs rampant and brings the world to the verge of a terminal war.  We know exactly how principled such outrage is, when Putin's bloodless annexation of Crimea arising out of self-evident security concerns and vital interests (according to Majka acknowledging that the leader of a country under threat has such concerns is equivalent to calling him "a progressive force in the world, and a person whose word is to be trusted and believed") in the face of serious provocations elicits real hysteria, including de rigeur comparisons to Hitler, while the far more serious crimes of the US destruction of Iraq and the US/Israeli politicide in Gaza - to take two examples of many - on far flimsier pretexts lead to nothing remotely comparable to the demonization of Putin.   Which indicates something other than principled, impartial concern for human rights and international law is at play. 

As far as the term "Anti-Americanism" goes, that's a standard term of abuse used against critics of US foreign policy.  What Chomsky had to say on the subject seems apropos:

After releasing your book 9-11, many reporters have said that you are anti-American. Others even suggest that you should pack up and move to another country since you believe America to be a leading terrorist state. How do you respond to such remarks?

CHOMSKY: The concept "anti-American" is an interesting one. The counterpart is used only in totalitarian states or military dictatorships, something I wrote about many years ago (see my book Letters from Lexington). Thus, in the old Soviet Union, dissidents were condemned as "anti-Soviet." That's a natural usage among people with deeply rooted totalitarian instincts, which identify state policy with the society, the people, the culture. In contrast, people with even the slightest concept of democracy treat such notions with ridicule and contempt. Suppose someone in Italy who criticizes Italian state policy were condemned as "anti-Italian." It would be regarded as too ridiculous even to merit laughter. Maybe under Mussolini, but surely not otherwise.  http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20021209.htm

So even as Mr Majka revives the rhetoric of cold war-era American Russophobes, he unconsciously adopts the propaganda tropes of Soviet commissars.  The irony is obviously lost on him, but not I trust on readers of the Halifax Media co-op.

 

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