By Patrick L Smith, Salon.com, Dec 3, 2014.
NATO was the aggressor and got Ukraine wrong. Many months later, the media has eventually figured out the truth
Well, well, well. Gloating is unseemly, especially in public, but give me this one, will you?
It has been a long and lonely winter defending the true version of events in Ukraine, but here comes the sun. We now have open acknowledgment in high places that Washington is indeed responsible for this mess, the prime mover, the “aggressor,” and finally this term is applied where it belongs. NATO, once again, is revealed as causing vastly more trouble than it has ever prevented.
Washington, it is now openly stated, has been wrong, wrong, wrong all along. The commentaries to be noted do not take on the media, but I will, and in language I use advisedly. With a few exceptions they are proven liars, liars, liars — not only conveying the official version of events but willfully elaborating on it off their own bats.
Memo to the New York Times’ Moscow bureau: Vicky Nuland, infamous now for desiring sex with the European Union, has just FedExed little gold stars you can affix to your foreheads, one for each of you. Wear them with pride for you will surely fight another day, having learned nothing, and ignore all ridicule. If it gets too embarrassing, tell people they have something to do with the holidays.
O.K., gloat concluded. To the business at hand.
We have had, in the last little while, significant analyses of the Ukraine crisis, each employing that method the State Department finds deadly: historical perspective. In a lengthy interview with Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, none other than Henry Kissinger takes Washington carefully but mercilessly to task. “Does one achieve a world order through chaos or through insight?” Dr. K. asks.
Here is one pertinent bit:
KISSINGER. … But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.
SPIEGEL. What was it then?
KISSINGER. One has to ask oneself this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask oneself, Why did it happen?
SPIEGEL. What you’re saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?
KISSINGER. Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine’s economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate.
Interesting. Looking for either insight or honesty in Obama’s White House or in his State Department is a forlorn business, and Kissinger surely knows this. So he is, as always, a cagey critic. But there are numerous things here to consider, and I will come back to them.
First, let us note that Kissinger’s remarks follow an essay titled “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault.” The subhead is just as pithy: “The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.”
Wow. As display language I would speak for that myself. And wow again for where the piece appears: In the September-October edition of Foreign Affairs, that radical rag published at East 68th Street and Park Avenue, the Manhattan home of the ever-subverting Council on Foreign Relations.
Finally and most recently, we have Katrina vanden Heuvel weighing in on the Washington Post’s opinion page the other day with “Rethinking the Cost of Western Intervention in Ukraine,” in which the Nation’s noted editor asserts, “One year after the United States and Europe celebrated the February coup that ousted the corrupt but constitutionally elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, liberal and neoconservative interventionists have much to answer for.”
Emphatically so. Here is one of vanden Heuvel’s more salient observations:
The U.S. government and the mainstream media present this calamity as a morality tale. Ukrainians demonstrated against Yanukovych because they wanted to align with the West and democracy. Putin, as portrayed by Hillary Rodham Clinton among others, is an expansionist Hitler who has trampled international law and must be made to “pay a big price” for his aggression. Isolation and escalating economic sanctions have been imposed. Next, if Senate hawks such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham have their way, Ukraine will be provided with arms to “deter” Putin’s “aggression.” But this perspective distorts reality.
I can anticipate with ease a thoughtful reader or two writing in the comment thread, “But we knew all this already. What’s the point?” We have known all this since the beginning, indeed, thanks to perspicacious writers such as Robert Parry and Steve Weissman. Parry, like your columnist, is a refugee from the mainstream who could take no more; Weissman, whose credentials go back to the Free Speech Movement, seems fed up with the whole nine and exiled himself to France.
Something I have wanted to say for months is now right: Thank you, colleagues. Keep on keeping on.
Also to be noted in this vein is Stephen Cohen, the distinguished Princeton Russianist, whose essay in the Nation last February gave superb and still useful perspective, a must-read if you propose to take Ukraine seriously and get beyond the propaganda. (Vanden Heuvel rightly noted him, too, wrongly omitting that she and Cohen are spouses. A report to the Ethics Police has been filed anonymously.)
These people’s reporting and analyses require no imprimatur from the mainstream press. Who could care? This is not the point. The points as I read them are two.
One, there is no shred of doubt in my mind that the work of the above-mentioned and a few others like them has been instrumental in forcing the truth of the Ukraine crisis to the surface. Miss this not. In a polity wherein the policy cliques have zero accountability to any constituency — unbelievable simply to type that phrase — getting accurate accounts and responsibly explanatory copy out — and then reading it, equally — is essential. Future historians will join me in expressing gratitude.
Two, we have indirect admissions of failure. It is highly significant that Foreign Affairs and the Washington Post, both bastions of the orthodoxy, are now willing to publish what amount to capitulations. It would be naive to think this does not reflect a turning of opinion among prominent members of the policy cliques.
I had thought for months as the crisis dragged on, this degree of disinformation cannot possibly hold. From the Nuland tape onward, too much of the underwear was visible as the trousers fell down, so to say. And now we have State and the media clerks with their pants bunched up at their ankles.
The Foreign Affairs piece is by a scholar at the University of Chicago named John Mearsheimer, whose publishing credits include “Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics” and “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy,” the latter an especially gutsy undertaking. He is a soothsayer, and you find these people among the scholars every once in a while, believe it or not.
Mearsheimer was writing opinion in the Times with heads such as “Getting Ukraine Wrong” as far back as March, when the news pages were already busy doing so. In the Foreign Affairs piece, he vigorously attacks NATO expansion, citing George Kennan in his later years, when Dr. Containment was objecting strenuously to the post-Soviet push eastward and the overall perversion of his thinking by neoliberal know-nothings-read-nothings. Here is a little Mearsheimer:
… The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine—beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004—were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president—which he rightly labeled a “coup”—coup—was was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.
Drinks for Mearsheimer, for his plain-English use of “coup” alone, any time the professor may happen into my tiny Connecticut village. It is an extensive, thorough piece and worth the read even if Foreign Affairs is not your usual habit. His conclusion now that Ukraine is in pieces, its economy wrecked and its social fabric in shreds:
The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process — a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach, all sides would win.
Mearsheimer has as much chance of seeing this shift in policy as Kissinger has finding honesty and insight anywhere in Washington. One hope he is busy in other matters.
As to Dr. K., he reminds me at 90 of the old survivors of the Maoist revolution in China, the last few Long Marchers. They enjoy a certain immunity in their sunset years, no matter what they may say, and for this reason I have always appreciated meeting the few I have. So it is with Henry.
Did Washington in any way authorize Kissinger’s interview, as it may have the Foreign Affairs piece, given the revolving door at East 68th Street? I doubt it. Did it know this was coming? Almost certainly. A nonagenarian, Henry still travels in high policy circles. His critique on Ukraine has been evident here and there for many months.
Interesting, first, that Kissinger gave the interview to a German magazine. Nobody in the American press would have dared touch such remarks as these — they cannot, having lied so long. And Kissinger understands, surely, that the Germans are ambivalent, to put it mildly, when it comes to Washington’s aggressions against Russia.
I have been mad at Kissinger since throwing rocks at the CRS, the French riot police, outside the American embassy in Paris in the spring of 1970, when the U.S started bombing Cambodia. And I am not with him now when he asserts “the Russian response was not appropriate.”
Why not? What was Putin supposed to do when faced with the prospect of NATO and the American Navy assuming privileges on the Black Sea? Was it appropriate when Kennedy threatened Khrushchev with nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis? Arming the contras? Deposing Arbenz? Allende? Let us not get started.
Here is the thing about Henry. European by background, he understands balance-of-power politics cannot be ignored. He understands that spheres of influence must be observed. (My view, explained in an earlier column, is that they are to be acknowledged but not honored — regrettable realities that our century, best outcome, will do away with.)
We reach a new moment in the Ukraine crisis with these new analyses from people inside the tent urinating out, as they say. I have hinted previously at the lesson to be drawn. Maybe now it will be clearer to those who object.
Whatever one may think of Russia under Vladimir Putin, it is secondary at this moment — and more the business of Russians than anyone else — to something larger. This is a non-Western nation drawing a line of resistance against the advance of Anglo-American neoliberalism across the planet. This counts big, in my view. It is an important thing to do.
Some readers argue that Putin oversees a neoliberal regime himself. It is an unappealing kind of capitalism, certainly, although the centralization of the economy almost certainly reflects Putin’s strategy when faced with the need to rebuild urgently from the ungodly mess left by the U.S-beloved Yeltsin. See the above-noted piece by Stephen Cohen on this point.
For the sake of argument, let us accept the assertion: Russia is a neoliberal variant. O.K., but again, this is a Russian problem and Russians, not Americans, will solve it one way or the other — as they like and eventually. Important for us is that Putin is not pushing the model around the world, chest-out insisting that all others conform to it. This distinction counts, too.
Joseph Brodsky wrote an open letter to Václav Havel back in 1994, by which time the neoliberal orthodoxy and its evangelists were well-ensconced in Washington. The piece was titled “The Post-Communist Nightmare.” In it Brodsky was highly critical of “the cowboys of the Western industrial democracies” who, he asserted, “derive enormous moral comfort from being regarded as cowboys—first of all, by the Indians.”
“Are all the Indians now to commence imitation of the cowboys,” the Russian émigré poet asked the new president of the (also new) Czech Republic.
I view the Ukraine crisis through this lens. A huge mistake has now been acknowledged. Now it is time: Instead of complaining about Putin and what he is doing to Russians every prompt given, like trained animals, now we must complain about what America proposes doing to the rest of the world, limitlessly.
Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century.” He was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter, @thefloutist.
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