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Russia and The Nation

[ 56 ] August 17, 2014 |

And finally, a word on the domestic politics of Russian engagement within the United States. Please read the previous post for a sense of where I’m coming from with respect to US relations with Russia; it provides context useful for this argument.

Russia

Russia is a semi-authoritarian country with a government increasingly hostile to civil liberties and the rule of law. Its leadership, while perhaps not “fascist” (a term that has become nearly useless), has built its legitimacy in part around virulent nationalism, combined with conservative spiritualism and a hostility to most conceptions of cosmopolitanism.    This government is considerably more hostile to civil rights and civil liberties than any Western country, and also experiences significantly higher corruption. At the same time, the current government has taken major steps to integrate Russia into the world economy on neoliberal terms, including making the country safer for Western investment, and pursuing membership in most of the major multilateral economic organizations.  Conservatives might object, but I feel relatively safe in suggesting that this amounts, domestically, to a far right country, residues of state ownership notwithstanding.   Russia’s fears of Western encroachment stem in large part (although not entirely) from concerns that foreign influence may lead to revolutionary activity on the part of its population.

Internationally, Russia maintains a strong emphasis on state sovereignty, and is generally hostile to the various expressions of multilateral interventionism that constitute a major element of the global liberal internationalist order.  At the same time, Russia eagerly participates in the multilateral institutions that it has become party to, and (as suggested above), has undertaken significant efforts to make its economy compatible with the norms and procedures of global capitalism.

This appreciation of state sovereignty does not extend to Russia’s neighbors.  For a variety of reasons, including long-standing security concerns, certain notions of historical and cultural privilege, and the general expectations of primacy that large countries tend to enjoy, Russia does not treat its neighbors as deserving of the same degree of sovereignty as Russia supports in international fora. There seems to be, in context of the course of the Soviet collapse, a widespread belief among Russians that countries like Georgia and Ukraine don’t enjoy genuine nationhood, and need not be treated with even formal equality. I’m not even convinced that the conflict between Russia’s espoused positions on sovereignty and its treatment of its near abroad represents hypocrisy;  it’s not obvious that Russian policymakers think of themselves as making exceptions to this rule, so much as they don’t even conceive of Russia’s neighbors as independent, sovereign states.

There’s nothing particularly unusual about this kind of belief in a great power; Russian exceptionalism is pretty unexceptional. However, it does mean that when we say we ought to recognize Russian interests in “a region absolutely essential in Moscow’s view to its national security and even to its civilization,” it means recognizing Russia’s de facto right to intervene in the political and economic affairs of its neighbors, to the extent that Moscow can, when it finds appropriate, simply dismember them.

Russia and the “Left”

If you’re a loose adherent of the realist school of foreign policy (as opposed to the realist school of international relations theory), then none of this matters very much.  The US interest in stability, in mobilizing the support Moscow can lend in other areas (such as Iran), and in the uninterrupted flow of fossil fuel surely overwhelms any concern about the political orientation of Russia’s neighbors.

I don’t know that it’s obvious to anyone what a “leftist” foreign policy consists of.  I have a better sense of “left liberal” but even on that score I think it’s reasonable to say we get more in terms of critique than construction.  I’m pretty sure, however, that there is no construction of a leftist vision of foreign policy of international affairs that can be built around the principle “the strong do as they want, the weak suffer what they must.”

It is clearly possible to write about Ukraine from an authentically leftist position in ways that are deeply critical of US foreign policy without, at the same time, setting aside a Cone of Imperial Domination for Moscow. Sam Kriss contributed a piece for Jacobin that found grounds for critiquing both the West and Ukrainian revolutionaries without simultaneously carving out a space for Russian empire-building.  A lot of analysis at Naked Capitalism runs from the bad to the weird, but at least the front-page posters don’t seem to have much sympathy for Russian foreign policy aims. This is unsurprising; if you’re on the left, or the liberal left, it’s hard to see anything to like about Russia, or about the direction that Russian politics are headed.

Not every leftist organ needs to engage in ritual denunciation of Russian policy in Ukraine.  For some people, Russia just isn’t very important or worthy of comment.  I don’t see value in demanding that Glenn Greenwald renounce the annexation of Crimea (although there’s a better case to be made that he should more aggressively challenge the depredations of the Russian national security state).  I would prefer that leftists refrain from engaging in justification of and apology for the worst elements of Russian foreign and domestic policy, up to and including the ritual demonization of anti-Russian forces in Russia’s neighbors, and by and large that’s been the case.

And that leads us to the Nation.  The Nation is now, and has for a long time been, an important organ of the left on foreign and domestic policy.  There has certainly been much to critique, from the over-enthusiasm for Stalin in the days of yore, to the employment of the clownish Christopher Hitchens during the period he was clowning on the left. I’ll leave Ace Cockburn for another day; I’ve never found his work of much use, but mileage apparently varies. But under the editorship of Katrina vanden Heuvel, and primarily in the person of Stephen Cohen, the magazine has embarked on a frankly embarrassing project of apology for Russian policy towards Ukraine. This project has moved well beyond a sensible recognition of Russian views with respect to its near abroad to a clear embrace of such views.

Agency

Assessment of fault depend on agency.  Actors with no options deserve no opprobrium. The Nation’s coverage of the Ukraine has almost singularly avoided discussion of the crisis in terms that grant agency to any country other than the United States.  When the US pushes, it creates a Russian reaction; there’s no sense that Russia has several policy options, or that Russia’s decisions made have had destructive consequences, or that the Russian leadership has created a poisonous mess for itself by mismanaging expectations in its own backyard. The Kiev government “inflicts needless devastation;” the Russian government that arms, trains, and supports separatists, that has actually annexed a part of Ukraine, has played no apparent role in the infliction of this needless devastation. The actions of Kiev and Washington have mechanistic effects on Russia; push the wrong button, and Russia annexes Ukraine.

It’s not difficult to re-write this story with a strong focus on Russian agency.  Russia’s clear, long-term interest in dominating the political, economic, and social conditions of its near abroad have created resistance movements in Russia’s neighbors that are not only deeply receptive to but often actively seek out assistance from Western powers. Cohen implies that NATO simply imposes membership, which allows him to forget that many of Russia’s neighbors genuinely detest Russian influence. This narrative isn’t entirely satisfying (the United States bears some responsibility for failing to make its priors clear to Russia), but it’s a more useful story than the one Cohen wants to push.

Fascism

Cohen emphasizes that a small fraction of the Ukrainian coalition government that has fascist leanings ad nauseum, with dire warnings that even small, unpopular group can sometimes manage to seize power.  Of course, many more small, relatively unpopular fascist groups fail to take power, but this hardly fits with the narrative.  Meanwhile, radical nationalist groups in Russia, with the full support of the Russian security state, infiltrate Ukraine on a regular basis.  The imperialist rhetoric that Putin cloaks himself is celebrated, either to the extent that it demonstrates Russia’s historical interest in the area, or that it indicates Putin’s “restraint” in response to the crisis. In short, the fascists of Ukraine pose a critical threat to the securit of Russia, while the virulent, imperialist nationalists of Russia pose no identifiable threat to Ukraine, or to any other of Russia’s neighbors.

Media

Cohen has decided to take the title of “Great American dissident” bestowed on his by Gilbert Doctrow and run with it, now claiming that he and those who agree with him are the only “true American democrats and the real patriots of US national security.” One would imagine HUAC hard upon his heels, were it not for the fact that Cohen remains effectively in control of the Russia coverage of a major, long-standing American magazine. Cohen claims that many in powerful positions share his beliefs, but are afraid to speak out because… of reasons, apparently.  In the same magazine, Gilbert Doctorow has determined that the lack of debate over Ukraine in the Russian media indicates not that the media has become supine, but rather that it has united around the justice of the cause in Ukraine. When everyone thinks that you’re wrong, you may indeed be a brave truth teller.  It’s also possible that you’re simply wrong.

 

I fondly remember David Greenberg calling me out as a commie symp for insufficiently celebrating the freedom-tastic-ness of Mikhail Saakashvili.  As noted in the earlier post, I think that US support for Ukraine should be careful and measured, and should fall far short of direct military intervention in the conflict.  I also appreciate that the Russian government feels genuinely betrayed by the United States.  At the same time, I can recognize that Russia has wildly escalated a very manageable crisis (the revolutionary government almost certainly would have collapsed under its own weight, leaving Russia likely in an even stronger position), and that this escalation has taken place largely because Russia believes itself privileged to intervene socially, economically, and militarily in the governance of areas that no longer belong to Russia.

It would be helpful if, the next time the United States determines to embark on a foolish imperial adventure in Africa, South America, or the Middle East, the Nation could coherently argue that it consistently opposes such adventures, that it find the politics of great power privilege abhorrent, and that it places a strong value on the norms of state sovereignty and opposition to violent interference in the affairs of others.

Unfortunately, it can’t do so.  Complaining that the New Republic is full of hypocrites is fine and accurate, but doesn’t take you very far.

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Comments (56)

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  1. Kal says:

    I basically agree with the thrust of this. No sympathies for the tankies here-it was tragic with Stalin, and is just sad with Putin.

    But I want to take issue with this comparative claim, which I don’t think is either necessary or true: “[Russia is] considerably more hostile to civil rights and civil liberties than any Western country, and also experiences significantly higher corruption”

    Yes, some dimensions of civil liberties are worse in Russia–the rights of opposition political parties, or LGBT people. But the US still has a higher per-capita incarceration rate, no? I don’t think we should be trying for a linear ranking here.

    As for significantly higher corruption, again, I’m sure in many senses that’s true, but I’m not sure that at the highest levels, money doesn’t speak more loudly in the US. I mean, our billionaires don’t get arrested even when they *have* committed crimes…

    • Gwen says:

      I think you have some good points. But at the same time, it’s not quire a pot-kettle-black situation. It’s more like a Cuisinart food processor-kettle-black situation.

      America, the Cuisinart of liberty.

      But anyway, screw Putin and his whole crew. His brand of Pan-Slavic chauvinism doesn’t belong in this century.

      In America, prejudice is subtext. In Russia, it’s text. That’s why I’m sometimes prone to going all boot-up-yer-ass-yeehaw-’Murica when the subject of Russia comes up.

    • heckblazer says:

      It’s not hard to have a smaller prison population compared to the US given that the International Centre for Prison Studies ranks us number two in the world with 707 prisoners per 100,000. Russia is doing a good job of keeping up though, ranking at number ten with 470 prisoners per 100,000.

      As for corruption, the 2013 results of Transparency International’s corruption perception index rated the US a 73 out of 100. That ranks us at 19th least corrupt, putting us right behind Japan. Russia gets a 28 out of 100, which ranks them at 127 and tied with the likes of Mali and Bangladesh.

    • Anon21 says:

      “I mean, our billionaires don’t get arrested even when they *have* committed crimes…”

      Late to the party, but this is something people are fond of saying, and it’s wrong. Our billionaires hire very expensive lawyers to ensure that they don’t commit crimes in the first place. Those who are too reckless or greedy to play it safe, like Madoff, do go to prison.

      The mistake is actually quite important. On your erroneous theory, the problem is enforcement, and the solution, presumably, is to get some really iron-spined prosectuors into DOJ and have them go to town on the rampant criminality of billionaires. In reality, the problem is the laws, and the solution is to pass different ones.

  2. Gwen says:

    “Texas is a semi-authoritarian province with a government increasingly hostile to civil liberties and the rule of law. Its leadership, while perhaps not ‘fascist’ (a term that has become nearly useless), has built its legitimacy in part around virulent nationalism, combined with conservative spiritualism and a hostility to most conceptions of cosmopolitanism.”

  3. Vance Maverick says:

    This is pretty solid till the last bit (separated by extra line breaks). Worth sharpening and sending to a wider forum. Of those last three paragraphs, I feel what doesn’t work is mainly the insidery first and last lines….

  4. shah8 says:

    One bit of neutral disagreement here:

    Towards the end, Farley believes that Russia escalated the conflict unnecessarily, because it should have been able to simply out-wait a hostile government in the Ukraine.

    I believe Farley is referring to the takeover of the Crimea, so if that’s not it, then nm.

    I disagree here because the Crimea and the ports there are pretty foundational to Russian merchant and naval regimes. They may well have feared that the Ukraine might not have respected basing treaties, or the simple (intelligence collection, logistics) complications of the Ukraine having NATO elements co-local to naval and air units. Sevastopol is probably not less important to the Russians than New Orleans or Gibraltar in the nineteenth century.

    In other words, how the state of Ukraine failed was material to Russian security interests, and did not permit a policy of complete malign neglect.

    • Murc says:

      I believe Farley is referring to the takeover of the Crimea, so if that’s not it, then nm.

      Yeah, I think that, indeed, he’s not referring to the Crimea occupation. He’s referring to Russia continuing to escalate in eastern Ukraine afterwards.

      • shah8 says:

        I’m surprised I generated this many replies, some of them interesting… Going by the one-by-one…

        1) Murc, Farley doesn’t mention the starting point of the escalation or the specific means of escalation. I just reread the post, if he did, kindly point out where.

        2) Warren Terra, from what I’ve been able to scrounge, Novorossiysk is relatively suboptimal (not sheltered, not a deep harbor, commercial traffic) to Sevastopol for both practical and ideological reasons. Also that as a process of rebuilding classic Russian imperialism, improving control of the Black Sea, while not a huge priority, is emphasized. Before current hostilities, there has been something of a minor conflict about Russia being able to modernize the Black Sea Fleet. Retaking the Crimea simplifies having full control of the assets Russia always had nominal and effectual control of in Crimea. As far as goals, presumably, the Russian state is thinking about control of energy trade from Mid-East and Central Asia and not invading Turkey.

        3) To Murc again–morality doesn’t enter into things, in part because “stealing” is a highly ambiguous term in anarchic geopolitics.

        4) Marek, there has been a long running minor conflict between Ukraine and Russia about whether Russia is permitted to modernize assets in Sevastopol or even dock modern assets there en-route to elsewheres. If Yanukovich is intransigent about this, how do you think Russian elites are going to view pro-EU and especially pro-NATO Kiev? Given Ukraine’s record about natural gas transit, I do not think it’s completely illogical to believe that at a minimum, the current Kiev regime would have tried to leverage renewed ties to the West to exert de facto changes in Crimea (unless, of course, palms are greased).

        4) I think hypocrisy is a pretty valid argument, because if you want norms against dismembering other countries, and to get all the other countries to believe that it’s worthwhile to do, then honestly? You really have to conspicuously act as if the integrity of the country matters. Moreover, I strongly suspect that Libya and Syria’s disintegration are taken as strong advisories as to actual US intent, and it didn’t help that the Tarsus naval base was threatened (and presumably a forced exit of Assad loses). Thus, referring back to point three, Russia may very well have adopted a new position of being proactive about the protection of its bases–regardless of appearances.

        5) DaveNYC, if the Russians waited until there was a hostile takeover, presumably, that hostile takeover would be reinforced so as to prevent Russian re-entry. Global support for recognizing Russia’s losses should not be anticipated. In geopolitics, possession is 99/100th of law. They didn’t get it in the Chechnya conflict, before or after the brutality of Beslan or Grozny razing. Would *you* support the kind of loss of life needed to retake Sevastopol, even if it was *easy* for the Russians to do so?

        6) djw, there are very few international principles that do not serve as apologia for the current system. Geopolitics is amoral and is often completely immoral. Expecting states to *care* is futile if not completely irrational.

        Again, thanks for all the responses!

    • Warren Terra says:

      I would be interested in hearing about the importance of the Crimea to Russia’s commercial interests.

      All of this froofraw about Russia’s need for the Crimea in order to project naval power is silliness, though. Basing rights at Sevastopol, however obtained, give Russia … nothing, except the ability to posture meaninglessly in domestic media. Russia could, if they particularly wanted to, develop their other Black Sea ports (looking at Google Maps and at Wikipedia, there’s Novorossiysk for example). In any case, what is Black Sea naval power remotely good for? It can’t be used to project force in the wider world without Turkey’s connivance, and every Black Sea country Russia might bother with threatening shares a land border with Russia, except Turkey – so are we meant to think Russia wants to invade or bombard Turkey?

      • ploeg says:

        Why spend the money to develop a new Black Sea port when there’s one already built out? The Poles did it with Gdynia in the interwar period, but they didn’t have an alternative that wasn’t populated with Germans and under League of Nations control.

        Black Sea naval power is good mainly for ensuring that Russia can blockade and harass Georgia or any Russian provinces that decide to break away. (I figure that part of the reason why Sochi was picked for the 2014 Winter Olympics was to strengthen the economic ties between the Sochi region and the rest of Russia so that the people of Sochi don’t get any unwelcome ideas. As things stand, Sochi has a good chance of being Sarajevo the Sequel before too long.)

      • Murc says:

        All of this froofraw about Russia’s need for the Crimea in order to project naval power is silliness, though.

        And even if they did, it wouldn’t matter, because moral people don’t consider “this thing we don’t own makes our life easier, so we’re gonna steal it” to be a compelling argument. We throw most people in prison if they act like that, but when those people occupy official positions, we stroke our chins and pretend to treat their sociopathy as a legitimate concern.

        • Malaclypse says:

          moral people don’t consider “this thing we don’t own makes our life easier, so we’re gonna steal it” to be a compelling argument.

          I remember the High School presentation of Manifest Destiny differently. Unless your point is that high school history teachers are sociopathic. Which, given that it was Pennsyltucky…

      • JonH says:

        They’ve already built a naval port at Novorossiysk, and are continuing to develop it.

      • liberal says:

        All of this froofraw about Russia’s need for the Crimea in order to project naval power is silliness, though.

        How does it, as a rationale, compare to the US’s “needs” that led to the slaughter of millions in Indochina, hundreds of thousands in Iraq, god knows how many in Central America?

        Not that I have any sympathy for Putin or for Russia’s “needs”. But this is a state we’re talking about, and states often do very strange things. (To take a tiny example, is US development of ICBM defense rational?)

        • Hob says:

          This is a strange argument when directed toward someone like Farley who, while he is less of a peacenik than me or many other commenters here, is not really among those who think that these kind of actions are OK when the US does them either. And this post is specifically directed at a magazine that has, for most of its lifetime, vociferously argued that the US (and other states) should not do such things.

    • Marek says:

      Do you have any evidence that the Ukrainian government was not respecting the relevant treaties regarding Russian forces in the Crimea?

      • Ronan says:

        Yeah, shah seems to be arguing backwards from an assumption here. Im pretty sure there were ways to gaurantee access short of annexation

      • liberal says:

        What treaties do the various victims of US invasion or sponsored coups regularly violate prior to US action?

        • ericblair says:

          What treaties do the various victims of US invasion or sponsored coups regularly violate prior to US action?

          You may want to read the section under “agency” in the post, because this looks like a primo example of the issue. You may want to note the objections of other countries to Russia’s actions as well, including the supposedly sovereign state of Ukraine itself which doesn’t seem to be too pleased about the situation. Or are all these countries just pawns or stooges of the US?

          Since nobody has defended or even mentioned the little adventures you’re talking about, it seems to be pretty much a tu quoque argument. From a Russian perspective the argument, as repeated multiple times on Russian news, boils down to “The US invaded Iraq, so Russia gets to invade Ukraine.”

          • Davis X. Machina says:

            Or are all these countries just pawns or stooges of the US?

            Everyone knows — unless they’ve been blinded by propaganda — that nothing happens over there, not a sparrow falls, unless it was directed to fall by an American Three Letter Agency.

            This is actually a bearded-Spock version of American exceptionalism. We are The Essential Nation, except in a bad way.

    • daveNYC says:

      Granting that Crimea is as important to Russian security and economic interests as you say, if Russia was worried that Ukraine was going to break their treaties, then the thing to do would be to let that happen and then roll in to take the peninsula. Then they’d at least have something that sort of looks like justification for taking over.

      By moving in the Crimea before Kiev did anything stupid to give them an excuse, Russia set up the following situation:

      1) Country makes an agreement with Russia to let them do something important on the countries territory.
      2) Country’s government changes hands to a party that doesn’t like Russia.
      3) Russia invades to take over the section of the country that has the stuff Russia put there in step one.

      Looking at that list, I’d say that some countries might think twice about getting too involved with Russian interests, just in case Russia decides to get protective about their investment.

      Feel free to replace Russia with USA and invades with sponsors a coup.

    • djw says:

      “We had to invade/conquer/overthrow/annex because the new government looks like the sort that might violate treaties in the future” is a principle that doesn’t seem particularly useful for any purpose other than an (rather weak) apologia for imperialism.

    • DWD says:

      I wouldn’t overlook Crimea’s importance to Russia historically and culturally, either. Küçük Kaynarca and the subsequent annexation of Crimea in 1783 not only broke the back of the Russians’ historic oppressor, the Crimean Khanate, but also inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the hated Ottomans in the process. The heroism of the defenders of Sevastopol (both times, during the Crimean War and WWII) is legendary, and Tolstoy’s service the Crimean War influenced the writing of War and Peace. And that’s really just scratching the surface.

      This is not to say that I think Putin especially cares about this stuff, but I suspect the Russian people do, by and large. To the extent that Putin still has to worry about domestic opinion, he would not have wanted to be “the president who lost Crimea.”

      • Warren Terra says:

        I’m not disagreeing with any of your comments about the history of Russia in the Crimea (though I will point out that taking this argument seriously would cause one to think the UK really ought to seize Calais, among many other similar examples). But Putin really couldn’t be “the president who lost Crimea” any more than James I of England (James VI of Scotland, if you prefer) could be “the monarch who lost Calais”.

        • DWD says:

          That’s probably a fair comparison from a rational perspective (though geographically Calais is a lot more “French” than Crimea is “Ukrainian”), but I’m talking about public opinion. Putin is on a big high in terms of his domestic support right now, despite the drag sanctions are having on the economy, and bringing Crimea back into the fold (at least as the Russians see it) is a big part of the reason why.

  5. Bijan Parsia says:

    Very interesting, Rob!

    Is there any analysis for how a more peaceful management of Russia’s near abroad might emerge esp given its internal tensions and semiauthoritarian bent?

    Also, any hope for fixing the Nation? Have you considered submitting a version of this article?

  6. Ronan says:

    Absolutely. The most bizzare aspect of certain left defences for Russian behaviour(for me) has been the complete lack of interest in how populations in former Warsaw Pact and SU countries actually want to develop politically and economically. Afaict EU (and Id assume NATO) expansion is pretty popular, specifically because a significant amount of the population in countries in Russia’s historic ‘sphere of influence’ feel much the same way as do some central and south american populations about the US.

    It’s one thing to recognise geopolitical reality vis a vis Russia, another to excuse any sort of bad bahaviour out of a dogmatic opposition to the US, and quite another to dismiss the genuine concerns of regional populations for some narrow ideological purpose.

    • John F says:

      The most bizarre aspect of certain defenses of Russia coming from the left is the seeming refusal to even contemplate that Putin’s regime is essentially the type of rightwing authoritarian nationalist/populist regime that the left regularly lambasted the US for cozying up to during the cold war.

  7. ericblair says:

    Another question is why some elements of the left took up this stance in the first place. There’s a history of the western Left playing footsie with Stalin (read some of my pal George Orwell’s essays on the matter), but that was ideological. Any sort of left analysis of the modern Russian state, with the kind of corrupt oligarchical capitalism, increasing ethnic and religious bigotry, and homophobia that have become obvious features, should have had the Nation running screaming. Instead, we get apologetics.

    My theory is that the Russia Today propaganda shop worked really well. RT targeted US radicals of left and right stripe with ideologically compatible stories about US misdeeds, tossing in all the relevant conspiracy theory hobby-horses as well to become the go-to site for anyone disenchanted with the US government. From there it’s an easy step to seed the relevant Russia-friendly propaganda and have it seem to flow naturally. It’s much more effective than barging in with Russia-only stories would have been.

    • witlesschum says:

      I don’t think it has to be any more complex than “Russia opposes U.S. foreign policy, so Russia good” non-thought.

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      Actually for the Nation it is pretty simply the case that Stephen Cohen has been an advocate for what ever regime has been in Moscow since Brezhnev. His whole career was presenting the Soviet side of things during the Brezhnev era as a counterweight to the mainstream anti-Soviet position. This had some minimal value in showing how the Soviet leadership viewed things. It is far less valuable now. When the USSR fell apart he wasn’t able to make any changes from his position of presenting the position of Moscow.

      • John F says:

        Many think it’s reflexive anti-Americanism, because reflexive anti-Americanism is something that I’m almost tempted to call ideologically rational. During the cold war there was also a reflexive pro-Soviet position which could be seen as ideologically rational

        Cohen on the other hand seems to project a sort of reflexive pro-Russian position that’s independent of whatever ideology is actually being espoused out of Moscow. Its kind of like how many in the US back the Government in Israel no matter what said Government is doing. Essentially despite not actually being Russian, Cohen is/has become a Russian nationalist/Chauvinist, and Russia is therefor his country and Russia is therefore always right. I’m an American I live in America, I know many Americans who think that way towards America- and it is literally an unshakable belief for many- but such attitudes get rarer among the more intelligent/better educated types of folks. What makes Cohen so odd is that people as obviously intelligent and well educated as he is are rarely as chauvinistic with respect to their OWN counties as he is towards Russia.

        Moreover, I’m pretty much a believer that all peoples/countries suck, but I can see foreigners falling for one country or another, at on time or another, but Russia? Putin’s Russia? Is there a great power on earth less worthy of such adulation? (I’m serious about that question, look at the ten largest economies/10 largest militaries*, I can think of why an outsider may fall in love with any one of those countries/peoples/cultures… except for Putin’s Russia.

        *Excluding Nork from the list

        • Lurker says:

          You know, coming from Finland and having read a lot ofd Russian fiction and non-fiction, I think I can understand why a person would adore Russia and panslavism. The ideology is a conscious effort to forsake Western values, first of all, reason. Panslavism and Russian nationalism is pretty romantic. Of course, all nationalism is romantic, but the German-style variant is still takes pride in the rationalism of the national culture.

          On the other hand, Russian nationalism (e.g. Gogol’s rant in the end of the Dead Souls) openly disdains reason and takes pride in its own irrationality. The old czarist adage “Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Folk-likeness” is something you can’t really rationalise and the people invneted this slogan knew it. (They were early 19th century courtiers well-versed in the enlightment philosophy.) Even many variants of Soviet communist ideology have this feature of pride in irrationalism.

          Thus, I believe that a Westerner can find some spiritual satisfaction in this rebellion against the whole tradition of Western thought. It is a dark, but understandable path.

    • daveNYC says:

      I hope you’re wrong, because the stuff coming out of Russia Today can be pretty embarrassingly stupid. Like Loose Change/Birther/Hollow Earth stupid.

    • I don’t think it’s Russia Today. After all, I think you can draw a similar line to leftist opposition to Western intervention in the former Yugoslavia, along with quite a bit of apologetics for the Serbs and denial of ethnic cleansing.

      At the end of the day, I think it comes down to a reflexive belief that America = bad, therefore anyone that America doesn’t like = brave resisters of neoliberal globalization/American imperialism.

      • Kal says:

        The US is pretty bad, as an international actor, as a rule. For some people that means we should always put a “plus” where the imperialists put a “minus” – I think it’s that simple.

      • Captain C says:

        At the end of the day, I think it comes down to a reflexive belief that America = bad, therefore anyone that America doesn’t like = brave resisters of neoliberal globalization/American imperialism.

        As always, it’s amazing how often supposedly intelligent people forget that sometimes the enemy of your enemy is an even bigger asshole than your enemy.

      • ericblair says:

        At the end of the day, I think it comes down to a reflexive belief that America = bad, therefore anyone that America doesn’t like = brave resisters of neoliberal globalization/American imperialism.

        Sure, I think that’s the big motivator too, why you’d want to listen to the propaganda at all in the first place. However, the Russian defenders sure have been singing from the same hymn book since the start of Mr Putin’s Excellent Crimean Adventure.

  8. Davis X. Machina says:

    …the complete lack of interest in how populations in former Warsaw Pact and SU countries actually want to develop politically and economically.

    Lack of interest or incomprehensibilty?

    The failure of a Third Way to emerge in Eastern Europe, and the positively indecent rush on the part of former Warsaw Pact and SU countries — or their elites — to embrace a tempered sort of market capitalism on on a good day and Thatcherism on a bad one is inconceivable to a certain kind of The Nation reader.

    • Zoltar the Magniloquent says:

      I lived in Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic back when the country shrank/got more selective, and even back then young people were unhappy with the Vaclav Klaus-type of neoliberalism. But for a lot of older folks (maybe post-30s back then?) unfettered capitalism was the only sensible alternative to unfettered state socialism. I think that people who had been in the work force for a while and who had rejected communist propaganda (and even most Party members didn’t believe that shite) had found Reagan-era U.S. propaganda very compelling. Also, as far as I can tell the EU social model has not put out anything like the volume of advertizing that the Reaganite/Thatcherite model has; maybe people who are attracted to the Third Way consider the appeal so obvious that it doesn’t need much promotion, and forget that systems that lead to more social/economic stratification (whether of the nomenklatura or the wealthy) have moneyed classes who are very motivated to promote their way of life.

      The younger people I met who had been more actively involved in the Velvet Revolution found the Western European model more appealing, but they were probably distinctly in the minority.

      Of course this is anecdota from from a kind of unsocial guy who didn’t have a huge circle of acquaintances, so take it as you will.

  9. “If you’re a loose adherent of the realist school of foreign policy (as opposed to the realist school of international relations theory), then none of this matters very much.”

    For us children in the audience, please explain the distinction?

  10. jim, some guy in iowa says:

    id guess “foreign policy” means “how we as a nation try to maintain our own interests” and “international relations” is more of a big picture view of how all the various “foreign policies” interact

    edit: meant as reply to ThusBloggedAnderson @ 8:45

    • Thanks, Jim – but I was unclear. I meant, what’s the difference in “realism” in these two endeavors?

    • Robert Farley says:

      Realism as foreign policy is the general notion that “national interest,” rather than ideological or humanitarian motive, should guide foreign policy, and that we ought to be ruthlessly practical in application of force, diplomacy, etc. I say “general” because there are multiple flavors on the theme.

      Realism as international relations theory is a related but different critter, with an analytical argument about how the world functions, and somewhat less interest in the day-to-day production of foreign policy.

  11. […] recommend reading Robert Farley’s piece at Lawyers, Guns, & Money on the strains of Putin apologia found on the far left and particular at The Nation. I don’t […]

  12. […] interesting pieces by Robert Farley on US-Russian relations, one reviewing a book on the topic, and another on the American magazine The Nation’s weird turn to Putin apologetics and what it tells us about […]

  13. […] That’s because Russia is still threatening the NATO alliance. Of course, they’re not doing it in the name of communism anymore — Russia is a capitalist state. That’s the beautiful double irony of the Red Block sign. On the one hand, antagonism between Russia and the NATO alliance is once again one of the defining features of world politics, so the Red Block folks are right to focus on it as one of the linchpins of the global capitalist system. On the other hand, the proposed Russian alternative isn’t communism anymore — a point that you would think would be obvious, but here we are. […]

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