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Dangerous Words: Calling Putin 'Hitler' Stokes Western Belligerence

The unfounded comparisons to Nazi Germany only pave the way for a catastrophic Russia-US clash.

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By way of historic contrast, when Clinton was the First Lady in the 1990s, the White House was trigger happy with Russian President Boris Yeltsin despite his violation of the constitution, bombardment of the Parliament and destruction of Grozny among other terrible acts.

At any rate, someone must have told the presidential hopeful that such populist utterance is not only counterproductive, it undermines Clinton herself, since she will probably have to shake Putin's hand if she ever enters the White House. 

As she struggled clumsily to clarify her position the following day, Senators, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) came to her rescue. McCain endorsed her comments, and affirmed that: "If Putin is allowed to go into a sovereign nation on behalf of Russian-speaking people, this is the same thing that Hitler did prior to World War II."

Rubio, also a potential 2016 presidential candidate, agreed: "I think the point she was making, in terms of the claims that they needed to move into a neighbouring country to protect an ethnic group tied to them, is certainly similar to the argument that Hitler made in the 1930s."

A quick research shows that such outrageous statements are frequent. Zbigniew Brzeznski, former National Security advisor and unofficial advisor to President Obama, described Putin as "the dictator in the Kremlin - a partially comical imitation of Mussolini and a more menacing reminder of Hitler."

Similar demonisation was expressed by a wide spectrum of people, from  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird to Anti Putin activists Garry Kasparov through French "philosopher" Bernard Henri Levi as well as British actor Stephen Fry and  Russian historian Andrey Zubov

Bluff and Bluster

Among the "Ten handy phrases for bluffing your way through a conversation about the situation in Ukraine", the British  Spectator magazine suggested rather sardonically: "The similarities with Hitler and the Sudetenland/Anschluss/Peter the Great/Stalin and the Tartars/Genghis Khan are striking."

The article makes it clear that "Historical analogies are invaluable to the experienced bluffer, but the amateur must tread carefully."

It follows, "When in doubt, hedge: 'I am not saying that Putin is Hitler, but …' or 'It’s easy to get carried away with these comparisons, but...' Try to look pained, as if contemplating both the complexity and the imminent possibility of human suffering."

This is eerily similar to what the likes of Clinton, and Senator Graham and Garry Gasparov tried to do. Unfortunately however, the image of Putin, as modern-day Hitler and Russia acting as Nazi Germany, has continued unabated. 

The danger in this type of contrast, analogy and metaphor is the degree to which they enrage, incite and escalate. After all, the entire lesson from 1938 is that military force is the only answer to a Nazi-like aggression. In that way, the demonisation of Saddam Hussein as a Middle Eastern Hitler paved the way towards a horrific 2003 war in Iraq.

Arrogance like ignorance is also a generator of prejudice as it's generated by it. Otherwise, how does one explain the insensitivity embedded in the comparison with Hitler and Nazi Germany when millions of Russians died in the war with the Nazis - more than the combined deaths among all Europeans.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

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