Home / Robert Farley / You Think It Can’t Get Worse…

You Think It Can’t Get Worse…


The Nation’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis has been legendarily bad, but this article may be the worst yet. In the process of wondering why traditional critics of American foreign policy have struggled to overcome the queasy feeling of associating with Vladimir Putin, Gilbert Doctorow chastises Noam Chomsky for being insufficiently quick on the trigger (“holding his silence until his distaste for American bullying of Russia and its aggressive hypocrisy outweighed his distaste for what he construed [my emphasis] as Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime”), suggests that Robert Levgold would be more critical, were it not for fear of his colleagues, and argues, in apparently unironic terms, that Stephen Cohen has taken on the mantle of “Great American Dissident.”

None of that beats this paragraph, though:

If Putin can rise to the challenge and, on the strength of his overwhelming popularity, rein in the oligarchs further, curb corruption more and successfully launch the reindustrialization that import substitution invites, he will finally diversify the economy away from mineral extraction and Russia may genuinely prosper. This in turn will take the country along its way on the path to full-fledged democracy.

Yep. Some might think that joining the WTO, encouraging heavy FDI, increasing gas production, and launching a wide-ranging assault on civil liberties are odd ways to achieve import substitution, move away from mineral extraction, pursue a path to full-fledged democracy. But then, I lack the insight of the editors of the Nation.

Let’s be as clear as possible; Katrina vanden Heuvel is making some egregiously bad decisions by allowing Stephen Cohen to manage the direction of Russia coverage in the Nation.  It’s going to cause longterm damage to the magazine, and those who are in anyway close to the decision-making of the editorial board should do their best to limit this damage.

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  • Warren Terra

    I’ll repeat what I said in last night’s Ukraine thread: I value the role of The Nation in our country’s politics, and they have a long history and a lot of valuable traditions to uphold. Sadly, their rather lamentable newish publisher Katrina van den Heuvel and her truly execrable husband (and editorial board member) Stephen Cohen seem to hold dear to their hearts and are re-enacting one of The Nation‘s more lamentable legacies, it’s 30s-era history of uncritically and abjectly parroting whatever the latest self-serving line from Moscow happens to be.

    I’m sorry to see that after years of publishing inxcusable pro-Putin tripe under their own names they’ve moved on to commissioning other writers to do it as well. It was probably inevitable (Russia is taking more criticism than usual, and as the publisher van den Heuvel has a lot of power), but it’s nonetheless a bad sign that they’re advancing their efforts to destroy a magazine that somehow survived decades of publishing fortnightly columns from the horrendous Alexander Cockburn.

    ETA could you please get some help to your beleaguered server? half the time trying to contact it, or to comment, or to edit a comment, returns a “not found” error.

    • Gwen

      I’m having that problem quite a bit. Now I could understand why you might block me personally – there are days when I barely rise past the JenBob level of pancakedom – but I think you have a more general IT problem.

    • drkrick

      I’ve been getting a connection reset error pretty often, if that helps

    • djw

      I’m actually having similar issues on a few other websites.

      • Jordan

        skynet is assuming control.

    • Peter Hovde

      There was a time when Cohen’s schtick as (comparatively) sympathetic interlocutor for the Kremlin had value, in the context of Cold War politics. It does not anymore, since the US government has far bigger specters than Ivan Bear to invoke in the defense of doing terrible things. Cohen, however, is a one-trick pony trying to hold on to an obsolete vocation.

  • Putism isn’t as sinister as Stalinism, because Putin isn’t funding communist movements in multiple places on earth and doesn’t run a comparable Gulag. But being a Western Putinist should be more embarrassing, because there’s no all-encompassing ideology or hope for the world that could nurture such delusion. That’s just idiocy and fawning adoration for a thug.

    As I’ve been saying for years, and someone–Scott?–wrote about here a few weeks ago, what’s called “the left” really needs to get some structural critique back in to its politics. So, apparently, does blind zealotry.

    • Davis X. Machina

      …there’s no all-encompassing ideology…. just idiocy and fawning adoration for a thug.

      ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is a kind of ideology.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Exactly. When I question the handful of friends (all on the left, sad to say) who parrot Russian propaganda, all they do is rail about the United States. They tell me that Ukraine has a long history of fascism…and the US coddled some fascists after WWII for Cold War purposes. True enough, I say…but what does that tell us about the situation in the Ukraine today? Once someone responded to my noting that Putin is a reactionary thug by arguing that the US supports reactionary thugs…as if the mere fact that someone isn’t supported by the U.S. proves that he’s not a reactionary thug.

        • JL

          It’s still genuinely interesting to me that my leftist connections are less Russia-sympathetic than a lot of other people’s appear to be. I’ve seen some of this reflexive US-bad-so-Russia-good attitude, but very little, less than I would have expected. I suspect that it’s because of a protester-sympathy-for-protesters attitude. A lot of people I know who themselves have experience with being attacked at protests, first started paying attention during the Euromaidan protests and felt sympathy and concern for the protesters being attacked. I remember the distress among some of my fellow protest medics (and myself) when that protest medic in Ukraine got shot in the throat in the street and tweeted that she was dying.

          My other hypothesis is that a lot of my leftist connections are queer and also distrust Putin for that reason.

      • Captain C

        Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is an even bigger asshole.

    • djw

      Putism isn’t as sinister as Stalinism, because Putin isn’t funding communist movements in multiple places on earth and doesn’t run a comparable Gulag. But being a Western Putinist should be more embarrassing, because there’s no all-encompassing ideology or hope for the world that could nurture such delusion. That’s just idiocy and fawning adoration for a thug.

      this. What the hell is going on? Is it a pathetic yearning for an era is which Communism was a force? Or an “America is always on the wrong side and we’ll reason from there” approach to international affairs?” Either way, it’s unbelievably pathetic.

      • Gwen

        Putin is, for lack of a better way of putting it, just an enormous dick.

        For a certain species of leftist, this is appealing, because this somehow constitutes being anti-globalist, or something.

        To put it another way, there was a story a while back about Putin walking off with Bob Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, and then being actively discouraged from trying to get it back. For most of us sentient human beings, we read this as a sign that Putin was a thug with no interest in the rule of law or protecting the rights of individuals.

        For certain Jets fan, this was an indication that Putin was the only guy in the world who would stick it to Bob f’ing Kraft and the New England f’ing Patriots. And huzzah for that.

        Basically, Katrina van den Heuvel and Steve Cohen are Jets fans. And that’s just really, really sad.

      • It’s probably a lefty version of every “liberal hawk” and every neocon wanting to be Orwell, or Churchill.

        • Gwen

          So it’s contrarianism for the sake of contrarianism?

          • The Secret Political-literary Life of George Orwell Walter Mitty Stephen Cohen.

      • Peter Hovde

        For at least one self-identified anarcho-syndicalist I know, the US and G7 pals are so completely, as Reagan said of the Soviet Union, “the focus of all evil in the modern world,” that any opponent must be given serious benefit of doubt.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        You forgot to add that the Ukrainian government has very unattractive elements to it. Some people see these unattractive elements (which Russian propaganda is happy to emphasize) and conclude that Russia must, therefore, be the good guys. But of course the unattractiveness of the Ukrainian government tells you absolutely nothing about Putin … or even the (even worse) Ukrainian government that it replaced.

        The whole thing speaks volumes about people’s willingness to think in entirely binary terms and fall victim to awful forms of confirmation bias: once you have decided that Putin is a great international hero, there’s an endless flow of crap out there being produced by and for his government that will tell you what you already “know.”

  • Ronan

    I’ll repost this prescient comment of mine from the other thread (quoted in full. Not edited even for spelling mistakes or failure of logic)

    “The Nations position on this seems to be very weird, but(although I agree Putin is in the wrong here, and generally doesnt have a regime worth sympathising with) I’ve come across a number(majority) or Russians(relatively liberal etc, ie not ultra nationalists) who have a lot of time for him as they see him as a substantial improvement on the ‘anarchy’ of the 90s and genuinely seem to think that meaningful reform can occur under his rule(or at least as likely as under any other plausible ruling coalition)
    I dont know enough about Russian politics etc to know how accurate this is, but that’s what Ive gathered from people anyway.”

    • For most Germans, Nazism was initially an improvement over the anarchy of Weimar.

      • Ronan

        Sure, but Putin isnt Hitler.
        Anyway, that’s not to excuse the Russkies,I just thought it was interesting the extent to which it seems to be the case that people sympathise with his rule and for semi-understandable reasons, which suprised me when I heard it(although Ive never been to Russia and this sample size is very very small)
        I think it’s worth noting as well though that there’s probably nothing or nobody(realistically, politically) really any better than him with a chance of running Russia in the forseeable future. All those problems, (getting the securocrats and oligarchs and all the rest of them under control, dealing with a failing economy and demographic semi catastrophe etc) arent going away.

        • Tybalt

          Sure, but Putin isnt Hitler.

          I’ve had to make that point a hell of a lot recently; in fact throughout the past few months.

          My reasons for believing this are that if he’s Hitler, it’s a hell of a fifteen-year long con he’s been running with his nearly unlimited power and striking force.

        • Karate Bearfighter

          Per the World Bank, from 1990-1998, the Russians had one year of anemic (1%) GDP growth, and eight years of negative GDP growth. Since 1999, they’ve only had one year of negative growth. Not saying this is because of Putin, or that Russia is reindustrializing, but it would be hard to preside over that kind of turn around without getting credit from your constituents.

          Living in the comparatively stable US, it is easy to underestimate the impact those kinds of macroeconomic trends have on everyday life. I lived in China in the late ’90s, and I believe the CCP and Jiang Zemin would have won free and fair elections in those years in a walk. Even among elite, educated liberals who expressed respect for western democratic values, there seemed to be a sense that China was a special case, and that democratic values were a luxury to be worried about in the far-off future, once China had established itself as a “developed” nation. A commenter on this site with more recent experience in China once told me that after economic growth slowed, discontent with CCP rule among the urban middle class became much more common.

          All of which is really just a long way of saying that economic growth washes away a lot of sins.

        • No, but Russia immediately before Putin was a expanding hellhole.Andin terms of capability and opportunity or expected behavior in politics, in 1932 Hitler wasn’t the later Hitler of infamy.

        • joe from Lowell

          Sure, but Putin isnt Hitler.

          He didn’t compare Putin to Hitler; he compared the Russian people in a given situation to the German people in a similar situation.

          “X isn’t Hitler” does not mean that the entire topic of the rise of fascism in Europe is an inappropriate topic for aiding our understanding of events.

          • Ronan

            when did i say it was? I dont think “the rise of fascism in Europe is an inappropriate topic for aiding our understanding of events.”

            • joe from Lowell

              You sure slapped down the topic quickly enough. The one comment you had on the topic of the similarity between the rise of fascists in Germany and something that looks very similar in Russia was to insist on that distinction.

              • Ronan

                I read Dana’s comment(which in fairness to me was a one line response) as drawing a Hitler Putin equivalence(which has been going around a lot recently). Perhaps I misread danas comment, but I dont think it matters(see belowe)
                I really dont mind discussing the paralels)

                • joe from Lowell

                  Dana’s comment:

                  DanaHoule says:
                  August 6, 2014 at 3:37 pm
                  For most Germans, Nazism was initially an improvement over the anarchy of Weimar.

                  If that’s a comparison of Putin to Hitler, rather than a discussion of the background situations and public response, then the “Don’t talk about Hitler” rule is eating the entire topic of the rise of fascism.

                • Ronan

                  are you actually fucking serious? Ive said i misread dana’s comment,ill even apoloigise to the man “sorry dana”, ive said you can talk about it to your hearts content, i dont mind.
                  Jesus christ

                • joe from Lowell

                  Actually, this little tirade is the first time you’ve said you misread Dana’s comment.

            • Ronan

              actually that sounds more confrontational, defensive than i meant. skip the first part

      • Manny Kant

        The Nazis were themselves responsible for a pretty substantial proportion of the “anarchy of Weimar”.

        • Sure. As were the communists, the various non-Nazi volkisch parties and paramilitaries, the reparations, the paltry history of democracy in Germany, the division of Prussia, rapid modernization, eventually the worldwide depression…there were a lot of factors. And the Nazis’ political success (fading by 1932) was in large part based on simplistic explanations and appeals to nostalgic longings for the vanished past.

    • wengler

      It’s hard to imagine that it was only 5 years ago when US-Russia relations were headed in a positive direction.

      • Warren Terra

        You’re thinking of 15 years ago. Five years ago the incoming Obama/Biden/Hillary team declared their commitment to improving US-Russia relations, and made some progress on US/Russian nukes. Russia has been more helpful to the US in confronting Iran and Syria than it was under Dubya, but a lot of that is that the US administration isn’t being such comprehensive dicks. I’d argue that we haven’t seen broadly improving US/Russia relations since the immediate post-USSR era.

        • wengler

          Yeah there could have been a quite different situation if Russia had been managed well(or at all) during the ’90s. If you want to see what Larry Summers and the US neoliberal economists can do to an economy when they have a lot of power, look at mid-90s Russia.

          They weren’t the only looters of course, but the Russian nationalists don’t seem to support a nuanced explanation.

    • observer14

      This is an important point. You have to understand how other people in the world may feel. Imagine that BORIS YELTSIN was your president…and that your country, once described as a superpower, had been humiliated by western bankers and economists who applauded while a few former officials stole state assets to go and buy apartments and basketball teams abroad. Meanwhile, an apparently hostile military alliance, NATO, expanded closer and closer. Putin may in fact be very bad, but you can understand why people would like him, if you just try to understand where they are coming from, something many Americans seem to find very difficult to do, preferring to demonize instead of understand.

      • Imagine that BORIS YELTSIN was your president

        Back during Yeltsin’s tenure, I remember visiting a Russian colleague living in Dortmund (more accurately, the colleague is part-Ukrainian and part-Belorusian, but she graduated from Moscow University and thinks of herself as Russian). She was not happy every time Boris appeared on the news. The signs of incipient Korsakov’s Syndrome were all too apparent.

  • IM

    Noam Chomsky – running dog of the imperialist Yankees.

    Oh yes.

    Coming up next: Noam Chomsky – Likudnik!

    • runsinbackground

      I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it as often as necessary: Chomsky should stick to linguistics (and possibly anthropology) and shut the fuck up about politics. He’s not a moron, obviously, but I once attended a lecture in which he spent the entire two hours explaining that American actions vis-a-vis the Libyan Civil War were self-interested, as if this would be some sort of earth-shattering revelation to anyone plugged-in enough to know who the hell Noam Chomsky was, much less want to hear him speak.

      • Tybalt

        “As often as necessary”? Son, if you’re not saying it to Chomsky himself, then you’re wasting everyone’s breath and patience. Write to him; he answers his mail.

      • wengler

        I have nothing against Chomsky other than he is dull. His book on Anarchism which is principally a leftist critique of liberal interpretations of the Spanish Civil War was quite good.

      • CD

        Chomsky had a highly honorable and effective record as a critic of the Vietnam War, and until you’ve had similar impact I would hold off on the “shut up” part.

        His analysis of U.S. power is simplistic. He’s sometimes wrong about stuff. He’s also spent a lot of time drawing attention to outrages that were being ignored. Why the hostility?

        • Marek


        • wengler

          It’s easy to punch left at Chomsky cultists.

          • Because they set themselves up to be punched, yes.

          • joe from Lowell

            Why is it always the people who spend the most time attacking other Democrats who whine about being ‘punched?’

      • I personally found Chomsky to be invaluable in opening my horizons as a li’l baby leftist, when I was 15-16 or so. I’m pretty sure I would have become a much more obnoxious campus-leftist type without exposure to his ideas (even if he’s not particularly original).

        • Jordan

          Maybe. I first read Chomsky for his philosophy stuff and found it … unconvincing.

          But whatever. Michael Berube generally has the correct take on Chomsky, and he is often found wanting.

      • Chomsky should stick to linguistics

        What have linguists done to deserve that?

  • IM

    But look, he is the voice of reason here.

    Was also a sort of Obama supporter – slightly lesser evil and so on.

    I mean compared to some leftier than you types or indeed the current idiocy in the Nation, Chomsky is clearly a Versöhnler.

  • FlipYrWhig

    All the Cohen stuff has been grotesque, and reminiscent of the years when the late and not-lamented-by-me Alexander Cockburn was taking to The Nation’s pages to simper and caterwaul about poor wronged Slobodan Milosevic.

  • Gwen

    “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

    “Every giant … presupposes a dwarf, every genius a hidebound philistine…. The first are too great for this world, and so they are thrown out. But the latter strike root in it and remain.”

    ~ Karl Marx

    I earnestly think Putin is the Louis Napoleon of 21st Century Russia.

    • Lurker

      We must remember that Napoleon III was a catastrophe for his country. After leading the coumtry for two decades of relatively nice global economic upswing, with a mixed foreign policy record, he plunged his country to a disastrous war with Germany. France did not need to declare war on Prussia. Napoleon III was an idiot to allow Bismarck to lead himself into that. With more skill, he would have either evaded the war altogether or at least got Bismarck to declare it. In the latter case, South German states might have remained neutral and Austria might not have remained neutral at all.

  • Robert Farley

    We’re having problems, and I’ve contacted the tech people. Apparently the issues are Rackspace wide.

    • Francis

      how wide is that?

      (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

      • wengler

        Yeah how big is LGM’s rack?

        • DonN

          That would be 19″ if it’s at Rackspace.

  • MAJeff

    If Putin can rise to the challenge and, on the strength of his overwhelming popularity, rein in the oligarchs further, curb corruption more and successfully launch the reindustrialization that import substitution invites, he will finally diversify the economy away from mineral extraction and Russia may genuinely prosper. This in turn will take the country along its way on the path to full-fledged democracy.

    With apologist to Lisa Simpson, “I know those words, but that paragraph makes no sense.”

    • Gwen

      Out of curiousity, I looked up the scores for Russia in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index:

      Year… Score Rank

      2013… 28
      2012… 28
      2011… 24
      2010… 21
      2009… 22
      2008… 21
      2007… 23
      2006… 25
      2005… 24
      2004… 28
      2003… 27
      2002… 27
      2001… 23
      2000… 21
      1999… 24
      1998… 24
      1997… 23
      1996… 26

      Note that prior to 2012, they used a 10 point scale instead of a 100 point scale.

      So we can see that maybe, if you squint, Putin may have reduced corruption by an extremely tiny amount. The null hypothesis seems more convincing though.

      Moreover, the idea that Russia is anywhere close to prosperity or real democracy is a joke. China, which has prosperity but not democracy, scores a 40; as does Greece, which has democracy (albeit dysfunctional) but not prosperity. All of the countries that can be said to be both nominally democratic and prosperous score much higher (Poland is 60, US is 73, Canada and Australia are 81).

      I suppose one could argue that the CPI is simply an assemblage of subjective (if expert) opinions, and that Russia is being punished by collective stupidity. I do not think that is accurate, but it would be a valid criticism. With that said, Russophiles only seem to be able to provide a handful of good anecdotes that corruption is really being cracked down upon (as opposed to simply labeling Putin opponent as crooks and then using that as pretext to lock them up).

      There simply is no good reason to believe that corruption is being dealt with seriously in Russia.

      • Tybalt

        China has prosperity? Russia is twice as rich as China and lower inequality. It also has a functioning democracy at many levels, including national ones: yes, it’s an illiberal one and the regime keeps its thumb on the scales, but Russia has the trappings as well as some of the real building blocks of democracy.

        Greece, incidentally, is considerably richer than Russia, by almost as much again as Russia is richer than China. (It also has correspondingly lower inequality.)

        I agree with you that Russia is not meaningfully challenging (rather than just channelling) corruption. However, in the experience of many, corruption is being channelled away from the population’s everyday lives and towards higher levels, which does. Drive real benefits to the population.

  • joe from Lowell

    He also seems unwilling to consider the possibility that one side has no interest in returning to normal intercourse, by which I mean Washington,

    Holy bleeping bleep, what a tool.

    and this possibility looks more like a probability upon close inspection

    …of Howard Zinn’s book, old issues of the Nation, and my gut.

    The writers at the nation are like the Bush foreign policy team, but with even less of a willingness to make an effort to consider facts that confound their ideological orientation.

    • Marek

      That goes too far, but I have to say after 30-odd years reading the Nation, Cohen’s latest article brought me to the brink of not reading it any more.

    • wengler

      Yeah, writers really need to stay away from the word ‘intercourse’ unless they are talking about sex.

  • joe from Lowell

    Sometime in the 1940s, people like Cohen stopped being able to project their fantasies onto the government in Moscow, and were compelled to project them instead onto certain Latin American, Asian, and African movements.

    I hadn’t realized that they had gone back.

  • shah8

    I’ve never really paid mind to this issues because I find there to be a studious avoidance of discussion about what are Russia’s brightlines are. We are no better about Cuba than Russia is about Ukraine. In a deep sense, we are considerably worse than Russia wrt Greater Antilles countries.

    I refuse to get all wrapped up on this topic because from my understanding, we are very much losing the debate about Ukraine. We have atlanticist Europeans, and even then it’s really rather soft. Standing up and shouting louder only reduces our credibility, and our credibility has been on a serious general downswing. Permitting Israeli atrocities have also seriously put a damper on having any angst about Ukraine, from what I can tell of international press.

    So as I see it, the complaint by Farley that the writer of the article puts words into people’s mouth is of fairly trivial interest. There is a deep well of the broad sentiment expressed in the article out there in the international press–Japanese, Chinese, Indian, German, at the very least. It could also be construed as hippy-punching. I’m not inclined to do so, but I *am* inclined to view the general US policiy vis á vis Russia to be a complete (if hopefully not disastrous) loser. You simply can’t order a country to acquiesce to greater interest (or merely US interest) without getting complete and singular minded truculence. The fact Russia is behaving as such should not be a surprise, and the fact that Russia will almost certainly win absence direct NATO intervention should not be a surprise. Pretending that the policy makers and thinkers the world over haven’t made a similar analysis is just heads in the sandism.

    • Ronan


      edit- ; )

      • shah8


        The time Farley spends on impeaching incredible people, particularly when the gist of what they say are said by credible people, is a waste of his and everyone else’s time. That is, if some sort of progression in policy/political talk is expected.

    • Origami Isopod

      So, criticizing an authoritarian thug who has invaded his neighbor, clamped down on GLBT rights, and promoted nationalism… is “hippy-punching.”

      Glad to hear you’ve “never really paid mind to this issue,” because if you did I can only imagine the new frontiers of bullshit you could be pioneering.

  • observer14

    This is a disappointing attack by Mr. Farley on people who are offering an important view of the Ukraine crisis that is almost totally absent in American mainstream media. A view in important respects shared by scholars such as Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. Mr. Farley’s criticism of one paragraph may make sense, but he offers no factual basis for his broad attack on Stephen F. Cohen, a leading Russian scholar. It appears as if Mr. Farley has digested all too well the prominent Russophobia of main stream media and the foreign policy establishment currently running the show in Washington. This establishment is perhaps guided by Brzezinski, who is famous for his anti-Russian sentiment (I don’t blame him for it given what his native country went through, but we are not Poland).

    Can Farley Contest that:

    1. Russia might have legitimate concerns about NATO expansion to its borders.
    2. Depictions of the suffering of the Russian-speaking people in East Ukraine might impose pressure on any Russian government to act.
    3. The Ukraine government now in power replaced a democratically elected government by a coup regime, that ultra nationalists are an important part of this new government, and that Russian speakers might have reason to fear that government and seek federal status (which we certainly enjoy, among others).
    4. The United States has given important support to the coup regime (and the protesters before them) and supported its military effort, without mentioning the civilian casualties and refugee crisis the attack has caused.

    Farley should, if he is going to launch such an attack, address the facts of the Ukraine crisis, rather than play the “Putin is evil” card so many American commentators play. Whatever Putin’s flaws, one must recognize that any Russian president, Tsar, or first secretary, even perhaps the drunkard Yeltsin, would feel compelled to react in some serious way to the prospect of an anti-Russian Ukraine with potential NATO membership. This is the real world, Farley may like many Americans, think America and NATO are benign, but why should other people hold this view?

    • Marek

      Katrina vanden Heuvel is interested in your ideas and would like you to write for her newsletter.

      • observer14

        That is not a response.

        • Marek

          I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith – Cohen can’t possibly be – but I’ll play along anyway.
          1. Russia “might” have legitimate concerns about NATO expansion. Well, does Russia or doesn’t it? In the event that your answer is that it does, I will disagree. Russia has a nuclear deterrent that will continue to be more than sufficient to defend its territorial integrity. Any fair analysis of conventional military strength would show that NATO is probably incapable of defending itself with conventional means from a Russian attack. Politically, NATO would probably not be able to handle Russia picking off a few bordering republics (though Russia’s recent actions have been moving the meter on this).
          2. Another “might.” False depictions of anything might cause any reaction. True depictions might too. But there are international forums for addressing problems like this short of military force, which Russia has clearly abandoned when it annexed Crimea. Russia has no right to intervene in Ukraine (which, unlike Farley, I think the evidence shows it is already doing).
          3. Your coup is a revolution for others. As has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread, there has been an election since the coup or revolution. Steps have been taken since to guarantee the rights of Russian speakers (which I agree must be safeguarded and are an important part of a democratic Ukraine). Neither you nor Cohen give weight to the crimes of the prior regime.
          4. To the extent the United States has supported democratic institutions in Ukraine, it should continue to do so. At this point, with parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia (Crimea) or, at best, under fire from Russia (eastern Ukraine), Ukraine is entitled to seek help from any source, including the U.S. Also, what “attack”? Using force to re-establish government control is not an “attack” except in the most banal sense; certainly not as far as international law goes. Talk to the Dutch about civilian casualties, and let me know if and when Cohen acknowledges who shot down that civilian airliner.

          No, Putin is not Hitler, and yes, he has internal pressures to deal with. But if we are not Poland, we are also not Russia. Russia should deal with its internal problems internally. I’m not a big booster of American foreign policy generally, but Cohen’s article is profoundly misguided.

          • observer14

            I don’t know why you would accuse me of arguing in bad faith.

            As to your four points, I really don’t disagree with you. I just think there are two sides to the story, and one side is not being told in this country.

            1. I don’t have any reason to think you are incorrect in your assessment of NATO’s fighting potential. But think of what a Russian person with memory and map might think. They know they were attacked and almost destroyed twice from the west in the last century. They know NATO and the U.S. running NATO have surrounded them with military bases and are moving closer. Should they not be worried about that. What would you think, in their shoes?

            2. An anti-US Nationalist Mexican government begins attacking some English speaking cities near the Mexico-Texas border. The images fill the nightly news. Would the U.S. president ask the U.N. to take care of it or does he do the job himself? What happens to his public opinion if he does not ask? I believe Russia has already appealed to the KIev Govt for negotiations but that Kiev opted for a military solution, but maybe I am wrong.

            3. Sure, one man’s coup is another’s revolution. Sure the prior regime committed crimes, who would doubt it? But if you were one of these easterners then it was the guy you elected who got run out by western mob and the new guy is a guy whose election you didn’t participate in. You have heard the rhetoric and you are aware of the post occupied by the ultranationalist politicians. Is there a reason to be afraid and feel sympathetic to a separates movement?

            4. The U.S. role is important because that means our taxpayer dollars bankroll a decision to go for a military solution (the path apparently chosen by Kiev) instead of a negotiated solution (federal govt, no NATO, etc.). It also means withdrawal of that support could potentially cause a negotiated solution (avoiding shoot downs) but that choice has not been made.

            Again, it seems there are two sides to every story. If we are bankrolling Kiev’s war effort, we should hear both sides.

            • observer14

              So sorry for all the grammar errors everyone, but I tried to use the edit feature and it didn’t work for me.

            • Marek

              I take back what I said about you arguing in bad faith. I was pretty steamed from re-reading Cohen’s article when I said that.

              We can acknowledge that Russians, and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, might have concerns about the Ukrainian government and NATO, but that’s a long way from defending the Russian use of force in Ukraine and placing all of the blame on Kiev (except that which is placed on the US for some reason). Nevertheless, that’s what I read Cohen to have done.

              And I hope that if I were in Russia, I’d understand why so many of the countries near Russia would want to be part of NATO, and that I’d have the good grace not to accuse them of imperialism so soon after decades of Soviet control.

            • Ronan

              There’s a difference here though, between seeing things from Russia’s perspective and excusing what theyre doing(and as per the OP, although I havent read much of the Nations coverage, misconstruing the nature of the Putin regime)

              I dont know how strong the case for NATO expansion as a direct cause is(iirc it was an association agreement with the EU, rather than explictly an agreement with NATO, that did the most damage) If thats the case then what you’re implying is that Ukraine doesnt have the right to enter into any economic or political alliance without Russian approval(not only military)

              You’re also underplaying the nature of the Yanukovych regime(again i dont really know much about it but my impression is it was quite corrupt, had a bad record on human rights and was creating an opposition without US/EU meddling) Also you’re ignoring Russian meddling in its neighbours(historically and now) and why that might create a backlash. Why some Ukranians might see the political and economic progress in other former Warsaw pact countries, and desire that for themselves. (and again, by the logic of speheres of influence, those countries shouldnt not have been allowed to leave Russian influence)

              We dont even know if there is a federal option here, if the federal option would resolve the issue, if the majority of people want a federal option. It’s one thing to want to complicate the narrative(and I agree that’s neccesary) another to become an apologist/propagandist for Putin(which Im not saying *you* are)

              Finally, RT is not the only source that gives the Russian perspective, there is plenty of info out there. Mearsheimer and Walt are not brave renegade truth tellers(although thats at times how they see themselves) but their views are quite mainstream, although perhaps at a more dogmatic level.

              I agree that the need to look at how the US and EU helped bring about this crisis is important, but theres the risk here of going from one extreme(seeing Putin as evil) to another(mindless opposition to the West) I also dont think US bad behaviour(real or hypothetical) excuses Russian bad behaviour, although yes it gives important context and should probably guide policy, but it’s not a silver bullet when analysing the situation.

              anyway as I said, i dont know much about eastern european/russian politics so am open for pushback on any of that

            • Manny Kant

              What are these English-speaking cities near the US-Mexico border? You can’t just make up whole populations that don’t exist.

              • njorl

                The situation does somewhat resemble the conditions prior to the Mexican American war. However, on this site, most people probably would agree that the Americans (who would be analogous to the Russians today) were in the wrong – we shouldn’t have interfered in Texas, shouldn’t have incited an independence movement and shouldn’t have annexed it.

                It was an act of unjustified, aggressive imperialism.

                • joe from Lowell

                  But we had interests!

                  I don’t know, man. That’s supposed to make it ok, or something.

                • drkrick

                  The interests were those of slave state grandees who wanted more allies in the Senate. But at least it was an ethos.

    • Ronan

      Mearsheimer and Walt are realists though and so tend to view world politics in a specific way. The int system is anarchial, country’s look out for their national interests(simply defined), big powers will bully small, great powers will have spheres of interest(which should be abided by)..that kind of stuff. Their position(which ill take your word for) is logical in light of their overriding theory of how international relations functions.(which the Nation doesnt share, afaik)

      I think you have a lot of points that are legit, though I dont know the specifics well enough to go into detail.
      (1) yes Russia has genuine concerns about NATO expansion(perhaps not legitimate by my conception of international politics, ie it should ideally be the choice of the countrys in question what their political future looks like) but yes in the context of major power politics
      (2) I think thats reasonably fair.
      (3)+ (4) I dont know enough about the politics behind the ‘coup’ (which it was, afaicr) but both of those points seem reasonable.(the second I wouldnt put too much into)

      Id be interested to know more about the politics behind Putins behaviour. Was he dragged into Ukraine or did he manipulate the situation (or a bit of both) ? What is driving his behaviour (domestic politics, economic crisis etc) Whats are his larger regional aims ?
      Any idea

      • Ronan
        • observer14

          Many people don’t want to accept it, but the fact is that to learn more about the situation it is important to read Stephen Cohen, Walt, and Mearsheimer. And while I would not want to connect Walt & Mearsheimer and the Nation’s position too closely, there is some quite fundamental alignment between Cohen, Walt, and Mearsheimer with regard to the points that Russia in fact has legitimate national interests and concerns, whether or not you agree with them, and that these concerns make sense given the way power is exercised in the world. RT (again, everyone will say it is propaganda, but it is important as an alternative forum for these discussions, which mainstream media will not show) had a show on called Crosstalk with Mearsheimer and Cohen, and they were in fundamental agreement as to the background of the crisis.

          What I am surprised by is the attitude seen above where people appear to fall into alignment with dangerous U.S. policy based on some foreign leader being a “bad guy” and all those who point out another point of view then get branded as propagandists or collaborators. This attitude is very common in establishment and mainstream media circles frequently with relation to “official enemies” like Iran or Iraq before 2003 and it can lead to bad places.

          Yes, it is important to point out the deficiencies of foreign rulers. But isn’t it also and perhaps more important to keep our own country out of wars (cold or hot) or other dangerous interventions?

          • joe from Lowell

            RT (again, everyone will say it is propaganda, but it is important as an alternative forum for these discussions, which mainstream media will not show)

            The fallacy here is assuming that anything kept out of the mainstream media must be legitimate.

            The newsletter of the Lyndon LaRouche movement isn’t reported in the mainstream media. Good – it’s deluded crap.

            RT is such an important alternative that its own staff keep quitting because they’re disgusted by the heavy-handed propaganda they’re ordered to read. Maybe the reason that you get characterized as a propagandist is because the actual paid propagandists have admitted what’s going on.

            • observer14

              I would not and did not claim that RT (or PressTV or Tellesur) is free from ideological control. Nor would I argue that the American mainstream media is free from ideological control. Nevertheless RT is still an alternative you can turn to for balance, given the extremely narrow spectrum of opinion in mainstream media. Of course you have to try to discern and read between the lines; that is always the case. If you watch the show I mentioned, I think you would find an interesting discussion of the Ukrainian crisis with input mostly from Cohen and Mearsheimer and without extensive involvement by the RT employed host (if that makes you feel better). You could then judge the content of the arguments from two American academics. I recommend it because it is something you may not be able to see on CNN or MSNBC.

              • Nevertheless RT is still an alternative you can turn to for balance, given the extremely narrow spectrum of opinion in mainstream media. Of course you have to try to discern and read between the lines; that is always the case.

                That sounds like an example of what D-Squared called the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”.

                • observer14

                  Who are the known liars? Professors Cohen and Mearsheimer who I watched speak on an RT program? If so, please explain what the lies are. I don’t see them as known liars (though if that’s true please point it out) and so I don’t think I engaged in the fallacy you are describing. I was just watching a TV show with what I thought were persuasive comments from two academics. Again, I would recommend it to you.

                • My comment refers to RT journalism. I don’t know why you’re dragging Cohen and Mearsheimer into it; they seem to express themselves perfectly well through non-RT channels.

              • joe from Lowell

                I would not and did not claim that RT (or PressTV or Tellesur) is free from ideological control. Nor would I argue that the American mainstream media is free from ideological control.

                Fortunately, this is 2014, and we don’t need to rely on the big networks for our news. Pointing out the flaws of the media outlets no one here pays attention to doesn’t make RT any less of an updated Pravda.

                Nevertheless RT is still an alternative you can turn to for balance

                Why would I turn to a piece of garbage like RT, when there are so many superior media outlets out there? Why is the only media outlet you think provides useful information the one that is a mouthpiece for the Kremlin?

                I think that questions answers itself. You are fooling absolutely no one with this heavy-handed shtick.

              • D.N. Nation

                Nevertheless RT is still an alternative you can turn to for balance

                So is Brent Bozell.

          • Warren Terra

            Yes, it is important to point out the deficiencies of foreign rulers. But isn’t it also and perhaps more important to keep our own country out of wars (cold or hot) or other dangerous interventions?

            Oh, for heaven’s sake. The current administration has done less to enter into other peoples’ conflicts than any President since Carter, and less than any other President since Hoover. The only intervention he began was an air campaign to even the odds in Libya (against a longtime declared enemy of the US), he has been criticized from the Right for staying out of Syria, from the Left for staying out of Honduras, and from various sides at different times for staying out of various conflicts related to the Arab Spring. He has ended the occupation of Iraq and scheduled the exit from Afghanistan. He’s not remotely a pacifist, he is still perpetuating the American efforts to shape the world order, and we could have a huge discussion about the use of armed drones in particular, but this is easily the least interventionist Presidency in a generation.

            Meanwhile, Russia has itself or through proxies invaded or despoiled neighbors including Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, and that’s if you ignore the national aspirations of Chechens and others. So, yeah, please continue to sing the praises of Putin and to listen to Russia Today. Just don’t expect anyone to listen to you.

            • observer14

              I have never sung the praises of anyone. Here again is this rhetorical tactic: point out that other nations have interests they consider legitimate, and you are an apologist for tyranny.

              The American foreign policy establishment has, since 2001, caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, at least, and left an entire region cursed by instability. This is a fact I would hope you would not deny. Sure, Obama has “lightened up” a little bit, though whether LIbya (now in chaos) is really an achievement of his deserves some questioning. It seems we would have bombed Syria had not the evil Putin saved him from his infamous “red line.”

              I’ll be clear about my position; perhaps you think differently. I think America has recently done a lot of interventions that were both strategic mistakes and horrific in terms of death and destruction. These interventions took place in a climate of unquestioning media support for the government. Given my position, I don’t think my statement about keeping the country out of dangerous interventions is really so shocking.

              • joe from Lowell

                It’s not “pointing out that other nations have interests” that makes you an apologist for tyranny.

                It’s your claim that such interests make it legitimate for those countries to violate international law and start wars that makes you an apologist for tyranny.

                The US has an interest in Iraqi oil. People who actually hold liberal and anti-imperialist beliefs, as opposed to shills who pretend to in specific cases when it is convenient, don’t do that.

                The American foreign policy establishment has, since 2001,

                So, not Obama.

                Sure, Obama has “lightened up” a little bit

                The difference between the Iraq War and no Iraq War is “a little bit.” No wonder you’re so comfortable with Putin.

                Given my position, I don’t think my statement about keeping the country out of dangerous interventions is really so shocking

                There is no dangerous intervention proposed for the Ukrainian crisis. You are not making this argument in order to avoid a military intervention. You are obviously, transparently lying when you keep making this claim.

    • Robert Farley

      This is non-responsive.

      1. Walt and Mearsheimer are realists; they’re as likely to defend the “right” of the United States to interfere in the politics of its neighbors. The Nation is not.
      2. I recognize that Russia has legitimate concerns. You may note that the original post is about the Nation’s coverage of Russia, not Russia itself.
      3. The Nation’s coverage has gone well beyond explaining Russia’s legitimate concerns, to the point where (led by Stephen Cohen) it is making abjectly false claims about Russia’s economic and political systems.
      4. Many (I daresay most) Russia experts do not share Cohen’s rosy view of the Putin government.

      Better luck next time.

      • observer14

        Where has Cohen made these “abjectly false” claims? Where has he described Putin in rosy terms? I really would like to know, because then I could be a more discerning reader. Your post did not point to any, besides the criticism of one paragraph written by someone else.

        In my reading I haven’t seen the rosy terms, what I have seen are frequent statements about how “Putin is flawed” etc. Most importantly, I think Cohen offers an analysis that does not obsess about Putin as an individual, but about what any Russian leader would do in these circumstances.

        Who else should we turn to for analysis of the Ukraine crisis? I have turned to Cohen, Walt, and Mearsheimer and found them broadly in agreement as to the roots of the Ukraine crisis and the problems with American behavior. I find this to be a valuable alternative viewpoint. You made a strong attack on the Cohen’s work on this issue, and so I think your attack should be further supported.

        • Robert Farley

          Google is your friend. Best of luck.

          • rea

            Google, alas, is not his friend.

      • observer14

        And let me add that you began your post that we are all responding to referring to coverage of the Ukraine crisis as “legendarily bad” but you do not provide any examples of false reporting on Ukraine. You don’t seem to contest the main points in Cohen’s coverage of Ukraine about NATO expansion, legitimate Russian interests, the coup government and its ultranationalist component etc.

    • wengler

      In my view the newly elected Ukrainian President(who unlike the interim government was legitimately elected) is going to have bigger problems once the southeast has been pacified. One of the reasons why Ukrainian elections have been competitive even while the population has been deeply divided is due to the general terribleness of Ukrainian governmental figures and their political parties.

      Remember this is a country that booted out a guy through a ‘revolution’ that they said stole the election and then elected him six years later.

  • This has the same stench as all those articles about how Creepy Totalitarian Republican X can make victory lemonade out of all his clusterfucks because popularity.

    • ericblair

      That, with an extra helping of “If Creepy Totalitarian X just completely had a brain transplant and turned into my wank fantasy leader despite all past and present demonstrated behavior then he’d really be super-popular.” Also, with added “I dislike the US government, and Creepy Totalitarian X dislikes the US government as well, so he must be just and correct in his actions.”

      VV Putin’s only detectable principle and strategic goal is the maintenance of VV Putin as Russian President. He ended up in the Presidency essentially by accident, and rode an oil price boom to popularity. Any great political theory of this actions has been post-hoc justifications by pet thinktanks to explain the latest weeks’ tactical manoevers.

      • Captain C

        He ended up in the Presidency essentially by accident

        A large part of it was that Yeltsin wanted to make sure his successor didn’t prosecute him (Yeltsin) or his family and/or confiscate their stash, and Putin was willing to agree to that in order to become Prime Minister, and then President when Yeltsin resigned (largely in order to ensure that Putin succeeded him).

    • Hey, you’re back!

  • on the strength of his overwhelming popularity

    For someone with supposedly overwhelming popularity, Putin puts a helluva lot of effort into crushing potential rivals and power-bases.

    rein in the oligarchs further, curb corruption more

    Has Putin reined in the oligarchy at all, as opposed to “arresting some oligarchs and seizing their assets while enriching different oligarchs”?

    • Captain C

      Has Putin reined in the oligarchy at all, as opposed to “arresting some oligarchs and seizing their assets while enriching different oligarchs”?

      If you look at it as a mafia leader consolidating his power and eliminating some troublesome lieutenants and rivals (and taking their stash), it makes much more sense than if you view his actions as attempts to “rein in the oligarchy.”

      • Lurker

        This is a very good point. If you look at the ownership of all major non-state-owned Russian corporations, you’ll note that they are held by Putin’s close collaborators. All the oligarchs are his Silovik friends or have shown fealty to him.

        More importantly, this means that all Russian corporations can be considered arms of Russian government. They are for-profit but also quite loyal to the security interests of their government. A good parallel would be the East India Company or the British South Africa Company. In practice, it means that any Russian delegation you talk with is likely to have at least on SVR or FSB agent, even if it is a purely commercial matter.

  • j_kay

    Katie, Katie (or are you Cohen?):
    I know, Putin’s a poor OPPRESSED evil conqueror and imperialist. And fascist. We real liberals CHEERED when Carter returned our equivalent, the Panama Canal Zone, done a century ago by TR.

    There’s the amazing Net.buddydom between fascists and commies on the net loving Putin. Sure that puts in good company?

    I hate Chomsky because he’s F- as intellectual and so a waste of good time several ways. He’s fail at AI, too, he’s both WRONG and boringly untylish. And right because he thinks the US’ always evil DOESN’T count, because he’s paid to THINK, not believe.

  • mikeSchilling

    It is hypocritical of Chomsky to criticize Putin, since he had no problem with Pol Pot.

    • The idea that Chomsky had no problem with Pol Pot is absolutely ludicrous. I can’t stand Chomsky, and I find this to be idiotic.

  • witlesschum

    Speaking of egregious quotes from the article:

    One of the most visible and consistent authors denouncing the American Empire in recent years has been Boston University Professor of International Relations Andrew Bacevich. Yet, he is conspicuously silent on Russia and Ukraine for reasons unknown. Perhaps as a non-expert on the countries involved, Bacevich has waited for those in the field to take the lead.


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