Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Ambitions Driving the Ukraine Consensus

Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell inform us on “Meet the Press“ that there is complete Republican and Democratic unity on Ukraine policy. Who can doubt the assertion?

On the Sunday talk shows, all of them, virtually no one argues against American military escalation of the conflict by sending arms to the Kiev government. True, on “Meet the Press” the English journalist Katty Kay uttered a few sentences to counter the combined hawkish barrage of Todd, Mitchell, and David Brooks, and on Fareed Zakaria’s show “GPS”, Stephen Cohen—also one against three—was given 40 seconds  to point out  that Ukraine was a visceral strategic issue for Moscow and not for anyone else. But there’s virtual opinion unanimity: red-blooded American straight-shooters want to stand up and make Putin pay a price for aggression. The only substantial disagreement, it would seem, comes from those lily-livered Europeans, France—the well-known surrender monkeys—and Germany’s Angela Merkel, who speaks so diplomatically in public that differences between her and the administration are difficult to discern.

During the Cold War, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman published a book called Manufacturing Consent describing how the media always slanted the news to favor the right wing in any left-right dispute. I was a cold warrior and am glad that communism, a terrible and murderous social system, is mostly gone. But I didn’t anticipate that the same process of “manufacturing consent” would continue its forward march after the Cold War was won, not by slanting the news against leftist insurgencies in the Third World, but rather by slanting it always in favor of aggressive American meddling, including military intervention, seemingly everywhere. The monopoly capital explanation, favored by Chomsky and Herman, certainly can’t account for it in this instance. Most American corporations gained little from the Iraq war, and probably more would gain than lose from continued detente with Putin’s Russia than a new cold war. So what is the answer?

First let’s narrow the question a bit more. In the narrative now favored by virtually everyone in Washington, Putin is committing aggression against Ukraine, first by annexing Crimea (which, despite its Russian population and longstanding ties to Russia, was “given” by Krushchev to Ukraine one night in 1954) and secondly by giving weapons and other military assistance to anti-Kiev pro-Russian separatists. According to these narratives, the history of Ukraine and Russia begins sometime in February 2014. But in the view of everyone else, in Ukraine, in Russia, and among those lily-livered European appeasers, history starts well before that. One relevant starting point can be found in the first plans to expand NATO up to Russia’s borders. As Steve Walt helpfully reminds us, the very think tank people now assuring us that escalating the conflict by arming the Kiev government will cause Putin to back down are the same people who told us in the 1990s that expanding NATO eastward would cause no difficulties with Russia at all.

It begins also with the longstanding campaign, openly boasted about by the neoconservative Victoria Nuland, the former Cheney aide who remains on John Kerry’s staff, to channel billions of dollars to Ukrainian dissident groups so that Ukraine could freely choose “the European future they deserve.” These moneys were supplemented by unofficial funds (grants from George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy) and open side-taking in Ukraine’s political crisis by American politicians, all leading up the ambiguous and still mysterious revolution/coup d’état of February 2014. Any historically minded person will have some understanding of the depth of Ukraine’s anti-Russian sentiments: it is a land of deep-rooted hatreds, and Ukraine in the 1930s and ’40s, tossed between Stalinism and Hitlerism, was the most blood-soaked place on the planet. In any event, the history didn’t all begin last year—except, apparently, for American decision-makers inside the Beltway.

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