When Vladimir Putin decided to violate international law and invade a sovereign democratic country a few months back, you could expect a few things. You could expect President Obama to enact sanctions on the Russian president and his cronies, and you could also expect the American right to label Obama as ‘weak’ for doing so. And given the nature of the aggression, one may have expected the American left and the so-called ‘anti-war’ proponents to express their outrage over the chaos that an authoritarian regime felt it could inject into a neighbouring democratic country. Alas, the protestors and intellectuals that swept the streets and political consciousness during the early stages of the Iraq War were nowhere to be seen this time around, and in their absence they revealed their true nature, that of anti-Americanism for its own sake.
The principal accusation that the American left made during the Iraq War was that the United States government had no right to invade the land of a foreign nation, unless for a good reason. One could argue that a psychopathic dictator spending the better part of 25 years purging his own political party, annexing neighbouring countries and carrying out genocide against his own people would stand as such a reason to make a move, but clearly these actions weren’t serious enough.
The left had awarded itself the moral high ground during the Bush years, stressing that his administration never had the right to intervene and should instead focus on domestic priorities. When considering the inability to accept the truly terrifying nature of Saddam Hussein’s rule, coupled with the frivolous comparisons of Bush to Bin Laden, there could never be much hope for this faction to face reality. That’s why it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see them go missing on Crimea.
This should have been a chance for the left to redeem itself.
Granted, Russia’s actions thus far don’t yet amount to a full-scale invasion, but we should not lose sight of the importance of the Ukrainian cause and the need to defend it against aggression of any scale. The crisis had its origins in the latter part of last year, when now ousted President Yanukovych decided to snub an EU association agreement in favour of furthering ties with Russia. As a result, many Ukrainians took to the streets, as did opposing Ukrainian politicians, who have since taken power and signed the agreement. So here we have a sovereign nation, with its government and a large portion of its population making a clear declaration of intent to become pro-Western, pro-European and more democratic. It’s everything the left should stand for; the revolutionary instinct, the fight for democratic principles, and the resistance against an authoritarian force (in this case being Putin’s Russia).
But to their shame, they have been inaudible. I have yet to find one quote from one leading figure of the left that alludes to any real declaration of support for the Ukrainian cause. I’m also not hearing much condemnation of Mr Putin; despite the fact that he seems to fit the Bush standard for condemnation from the left, namely, intervening in a nation unilaterally under spurious pretexts. It has revealed what one should have suspected for quite some time, that the only international aggression that they recognise as problematic is any that emanates from the Pentagon.
Glenn Greenwald, the man who was gifted the most desirable news story of the past few years by Edward Snowden and who has become a leading figure of the American left, has seemingly been unnerved by the crisis in Ukraine. When pressed by a fellow journalist on Crimea, Greenwald reflexively switched the subject to the unconscionable outcomes of American drone strikes instead of answering the question put to him.
Chris Hedges, another hero of the supposedly radical American left (a man who once posited that actual intellectuals such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, along with the Christian right, were more dangerous than Islamic suicide murderers), has also been relatively quiet on Crimea. However, the one interview I could find where he touched on the subject, he does his best to avoid addressing the criminality of Putin’s actions and decides instead to chastise America for provoking Russia into action, without providing any evidence for this provocation. He therefore bizarrely seems to suggest that Russia is within its rights to attack Ukraine in order to defend themselves against American overreach.
Of course, a journey into the intellectual left wouldn’t be thorough without reference to the guru of the left himself, Noam Chomsky. In his recent article, “Red Lines in Ukraine and Elsewhere”, Chomsky also spends the vast majority of the column avoiding the severity of Putin’s actions and uses many more words reinforcing that the only mistake Putin made was disrupting America’s stranglehold on the world by crossing over an American ‘red-line’, apparently set along Russian borders. According to Chomsky, any aggressive action undertaken by Russia in neighbouring countries, rather than being a criminal action worth punishing is merely an unwelcome intrusion into America’s power.
Whether this action is or is not disruptive to America’s imperialist ambitions should not be the point, the point is whether Putin is in the wrong when he deploys troops in a democratic country that engaged in a revolution heavily fuelled by strong resentment towards his country’s unwelcome influence.
When Chomsky finally does address the menacing nature of Putin’s recent actions, he spends one sentence in doing so, before inevitably switching the topic to the United States’ refusal to return Guantanamo to Cuba.
However, Chomsky isn’t content to stop there, he even goes as far to mount a case for Putin. He pathetically stresses the historically Russian nature of Crimea along with the current strategic importance it holds for Russia, and therefore a deep intrusion into the internal affairs of a neighbouring country is implicitly justified.
What Chomsky does in his piece is indicative of what most of the American left feels like it must do when presented with aggressive action from abroad: just make a quick comparison with past American foreign policy oppression, thereby alleviating the current aggressor of any responsibility. And if you feel strong enough (or stupid enough), provide tacit approval for the current aggressors’ actions.
This piece has steered relatively clear of explicit economics, but I think there is a connection in any case. Just like the worst kinds of economists, the worst kind of intellectuals tend to make the data fit the model rather than the model fit the data. The American left has had the same model for quite some time now, which basically consists of one notion: all true oppression originates in the White House. So when a situation comes along to challenge this model, it’s usually treated as an unimportant digression or just ignored entirely. And what we are left with is an intellectually feeble and morally cold way of thinking.
If Putin does decide to make good on his threat to launch a full-scale invasion throughout Ukraine over the coming months, don’t expect many on the American left to show much concern.
Image: ‘Euromaidan 2013 Mstyslav Chernov-14’ by Mstyslav Chernov, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Euromaidan_2013_Mstyslav_Chernov-14.jpg. Licence at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en.