I don’t pretend to understand American empire or why the U.S. does anything at all. I don’t have any special knowledge. But for some reason, I’ve never believed the U.S. version of what’s happening in Ukraine.
I look at this stuff now and think, Well, there may be activity on Russia’s borders or inside Ukraine, but maybe not. Those two soldiers may be Russian and may be on active duty, but I cannot draw any conclusion.
I do not appreciate having to think this way—not as a reader and not as a former newsman. I do not like reading Times editorials, such as Tuesday’s, which institutionalizes “Putin’s war” and other such tropes, and having to say, Our most powerful newspaper is into the created reality game.
A few things can be made clear in all this. Straight off the top it is almost certain, despite a logical wariness of presented evidence, that Russia has personnel and weapons deployed along its border and in Ukraine.
I greatly hope so, and whether they are on duty or otherwise interests me not at all.
First of all, it is a highly restrained approach to a geopolitical circumstance that Moscow recognizes as dangerous, Washington does not seem to and Kiev emphatically does not. In reversed circumstances, a troubled nation would have long back turned into an open conflict between two nuclear powers. Fig leafs have their place.
I have written before on the question of spheres of influence: They are to be observed if not honored. Stephen Cohen, the Russianist scholar, prefers “spheres of security,” and the phrase makes the point plainly. Russia cannot be expected to abandon its interests as Cohen defines them, and considering what is at issue for Moscow, the response is intelligently measured.
Equally, Moscow appears to recognize that without any equilibrium between the Russian-tilted east and the Western-tilted west, Ukraine will be a bloodbath. Irresponsible as it has proven, and with little or no control over armed extreme rightist factions, Kiev cannot be allowed even an attempt to resolve this crisis militarily.
One has to consider how these things are conventionally done. I had a cousin who piloted helicopters in Vietnam long ago. When we spread the conflict to Laos and Cambodia he flew in blue jeans, a T-shirt, sneakers and without dog tags. “If you go down, we don’t know you,” was the O.D.
A directly germane case is Angola in the mid-1970s. When the Portuguese were forced to flee the old colony, the CIA began supplying right-wing opportunists in the north and south with weapons, money, and agency personnel. Only in response did Cuba send troops that quickly proved decisive. I remember well all the howls of “aggression”—all of them hypocritical rubbish: American efforts to subvert the movement that still governs Angola peaceably continued for a dozen more years.
The Times editorial just noted is headlined, “Vladimir Putin Hides the Truth.” This is upside-down-ism at its very worst.
It is not easy to put accounts of the Ukraine crisis side by side to compare them. Think of two bottles of unlabeled wine in a blind taste test. Now read on.
I do not see how there can be any question that Moscow’s take on Ukraine and the larger East-West confrontation is the more coherent. Read or listen to Putin’s speeches, notably that delivered at the Valdai Discussion Club, a Davos variant, in Sochi last October. It is historically informed, with a grasp of interests (common and opposing), the nature of the 21st century environment and how best outcomes are to be achieved in it.
Altogether, Moscow offers a vastly more sophisticated, coherent accounting of the Ukraine crisis than any American official has or ever will. This is for one simple reason: Neither Putin nor Lavrov bears the burden American officials do of having to sell people mythical renderings of how the world works or their place in it.
Russia’s interests are clear and can be stated clearly, to put the point another way. America’s—the expansion of opportunity for capital and the projection of power—must always remain shrouded.
The question of plausibility is a serious imbalance, critical in its implications. In my view it accounts for that probably unprecedented propaganda effort noted earlier. It has ensued apace since Andrew Lack, named in January as America’s first chief propaganda officer (CEO of the new Broadcasting Board of Governors), instantly declared information a field of battle. A war of the worldviews, we may call it.
This war grows feverish as we speak. In the current edition of The Nation, a journalist named James Carden publishes a remarkable piece detailing the extremes now approached. I rank it a must read, and you can find it here.
Carden’s piece is called “The New McCarthyism,” and any reader having a look will know well enough why our drift back toward the paranoid style of the 1950s is something we all ought to guard against. A great deal of this column would be banned as “disinformation.” Whatever your stripe, I urge you to recognize this as serious.
The focus here is on a report called “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money.” It is written by Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss. It is published by an Internet magazine called The Intepreter, as a special report sponsored by the Institute for Modern Russia.
Credential problems galore. Weiss is an “expert” on flavors of the month, a main-chancer who sat at the late Christopher Hitchens’ feet and inhabited a think tank in London before taking the editor’s chair at The Interpreter. Pomersantsev was a TV producer in the most decadent corners of the Russian media circus, wheeling against it all only when he lost out. Now he is a darling of our media, naturally.
Both, most important, seem to carry water for Michail Khodorkovsky, the oligarchic crook whom Western media, from the Times on down, now lionize as a democrat because he and Putin are enemies. Khodorkovsky funds the Institute for Modern Russia, based in New York. The IMR, in turn, funds The Interpreter.
Got the fix? Ready to take this report seriously, are we?
Astonishingly enough, a lot of people are. As Carden reports, Weiss and Pomerantsev cut considerable mustard among the many members of Congress nursing the new Russophobia. Anne Applebaum, the prominent paranoid on all questions Russian; and Geoffrey Pyatt, Obama’s coup-cultivating ambassador in Kiev: Many weighty figures stand with these guys.
Carden lays out his thesis expertly. Putin’s weaponization of news makes him more dangerous than any communist ever was, “The Menace of Unreality” asserts, and he must be countered. How? With “an internationally recognized ratings system for disinformation.”
“Media organizations that practice conscious deception should be excluded from the community,” Weiss and Pomerantsev write—the community being those of approved thought.
No, Carden is not kidding.
It may seem odd, but I credit Weiss and Pomerantsev with one insight. The infection of ideology now debilitates us. Blindness spreads and has to be treated. But there agreement ends, as I consider their report to be among the more extreme cases of the disease so far to show itself.
You can follow the internal logic, but I would not spend too much time on it because there is none once you exit their bubble. There is only one truth, the argument runs, and it just so happens it is exactly what we think. There is no other way to see things. All is TINA, “there is no alternative.”
It would be easy to dismiss Weiss and Pomerantsev as supercilious hacks, and I do. But not the stance. They say too clumsily and bluntly what is actually the prevalent intellectual frame, a key aspect of the neoliberal stance. TINA, the argument Thatcher made famous, applies to all things.
To say “The Menace of Unreality” advocates a kind of intellectual protectionism is not strong enough. Their idea comes to the control of information, which is to say the control of the truth. And if you can think of a more efficient way to define the production of propaganda, use the comment box.
Fighting alleged propaganda with propaganda: This is upside down for you. It is what we get when people make up reality for us.