Dangerous 'We-Hate-Putin' Groupthink Among U.S. Political-Elite Threatens World Security
The U.S. political-media elites, which twisted themselves into a dangerous “group think” over the Iraq War last decade, have spun out of control again in a wild overreaction to the Ukraine crisis. Across the ideological spectrum, there is rave support for the coup that overthrew Ukraine’s elected president — and endless ranting against Russian President Vladimir Putin for refusing to accept the new coup leadership in Kiev and intervening to protect Russian interests in Crimea.
The “we-hate-Putin” hysteria has now reach the point that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has deployed the “Hitler analogy” against Putin, comparing Putin’s interests in protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine with Hitler citing ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe to justify aggression at the start of World War II.
“I just want people to have a little historic perspective,” the reputed 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner told a question-and-answer session at UCLA on Wednesday, confirming reports of her using the Hitler analogy during an earlier private fundraiser.
Some Clinton backers suggested she made the provocative comparison to give herself protection from expected right-wing attacks on her for having participated in the “reset” of U.S. policy toward Russia in 2009. She also was putting space between herself and President Barack Obama’s quiet effort to cooperate with Putin to resolve crises with Iran and Syria.
But what is shocking about Clinton’s Hitler analogy — and why it should give Democrats pause as they rush to coronate her as their presidential nominee in 2016 — is that it suggests that she has joined the neoconservative camp, again. Since her days as a U.S. senator from New York — and as a supporter of the Iraq War — Clinton has often sided with the neocons and she’s doing so again in demonizing Putin.
Democrats might want to contemplate how a President Hillary Clinton would handle that proverbial “3 a.m. phone call,” perhaps one with conflicting information about a chemical weapons attack in Syria or muddled suspicions that Iran is moving toward a nuclear bomb or reports that Russia is using its military to resist a right-wing coup in neighboring Ukraine.
Would she unthinkingly adopt the hawkish neocon position as she often did as U.S. senator and as Secretary of State? Would she wait for the “fog of war” to lift or simply plunge ahead with flame-throwing rhetoric that could make a delicate situation worse?
There’s also the question of Clinton’s honesty. Does she really believe that Putin protecting ethnic Russians from an illegitimate government that seized power in a right-wing coup on Russia’s border is comparable to Hitler invading Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland?
Normally, anyone who uses a Hitler analogy is immediately chastised for both absurd hyperbole and anti-Semitism. Besides the extreme exaggeration involved, the Hitler analogy trivializes the scope of Hitler’s crimes both in provoking World War II and carrying out the Holocaust against European Jews.
Usually neocons are among the first to protest this cheapening of the Holocaust’s memory, but apparently their determination to take down Putin for his interference in their “regime change” plans across the Middle East caused some neocons to endorse Clinton’s Hitler analogy. One of the Washington Post’s neocon editorial writers, Charles Lane, wrote on Thursday: “Superficially plausible though the Hitler-Putin comparison may be, just how precisely does it fit? In some respects, alarmingly so.”
Yet, outside of this mad “group think” that has settled over Official Washington, Clinton’s Hitler analogy is neither reasonable nor justified. If she wanted to note that protecting one’s national or ethnic group has been cited historically to justify interventions, she surely didn’t have to go to the Hitler extreme. There are plenty of other examples.
For instance, it was a factor in the Mexican-American War in the 1840s when President James Polk cited protecting Texans as a justification for the war with Mexico. The “protect Americans” argument also was used by President Ronald Reagan in justifying his invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983. Reagan said he was protecting American students at the St. George’s Medical School, even though they were not in any real physical danger.
In other conflicts, human rights advocates have asserted the right to defend any civilians from physical danger under the so-called “responsibility to protect” — or “R2P” — principle. For example, neocons and various U.S.-based “non-governmental organizations” have urged a U.S. military intervention in Syria supposedly to protect innocent human life.
However, if anyone dared compare Ronald Reagan or, for that matter, R2P advocates to Hitler, you could expect the likes of Charles Lane to howl with outrage. Yet, when Putin faces a complex dilemma like the violent right-wing coup in Ukraine — and worries about ethnic Russians facing potential persecution — he is casually compared to Hitler with almost no U.S. opinion leader protesting the hype.
Who Were the Snipers?
There is also new evidence suggesting that the sniper shootings in Kiev — a pivotal moment in the uprising to overthrow President Viktor Yanukovych — may have been the work of neo-Nazi provocateurs trying to foment a coup, not the police trying to stop one.
According to an intercepted phone conversation between Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Paet reported on a conversation that he had with a doctor in Kiev who said the sniper fire that killed protesters was the same that killed police officers. As reported by the UK Guardian, “During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga — who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor — blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.”
Paet said, “What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides.
“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. … So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition.”
Ashton replied: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh.”
However, the sniper fire has been cited by the U.S. government and major U.S. news outlets as evidence of Yanukovych’s depravity, thus justifying his violent removal from office last month when he was forced to flee for his life after neo-Nazi militias seized control of government buildings.
Yet, despite the new evidence suggesting that the coup-makers may have been responsible for instigating the violence, the mainstream U.S. press continues to revise the preferred narrative by putting white hats on the coup-makers and black hats on the Yanukovych government. For instance, the New York Times has stopped reporting that more than a dozen police officers were among the 80 or so people killed as protests in Kiev turned violent. The typical new version in the U.S. press is simply that Yanukovych’s police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, killing 80 of them.
And to take a contradictory view of this conventional wisdom marks you as “crazy.” When Yanukovych and Putin raised questions about who actually opened fire, the U.S. news media dismissed their suspicions as “conspiracy theories” and proof of “delusional” thinking. It is now a virtual consensus across the U.S. news media that Putin is “unstable” and “disconnected from reality.”
The Washington Post called Putin’s Tuesday news conference “rambling.” However, if you read the transcript, it is anything but “rambling” or “delusional.” Putin comes across as quite coherent, expressing a detailed understanding of the Ukraine crisis and the legal issues involved.
Putin begins his response to reporters’ questions by puzzling over the reasons for the violent overthrow of Yanukovych, especially after the Ukrainian president agreed to European terms for surrendering much of his power, moving up elections and ordering police to withdraw. But that Feb. 21 agreement lasted only two hours, ended by neo-Nazi extremists seizing control of government buildings and forcing Yanukovych to flee for his life.
Putin said, “There can only be one assessment: this was an anti-constitutional takeover, an armed seizure of power. Does anyone question this? Nobody does. There is a question here that neither I, nor my colleagues, with whom I have been discussing the situation in Ukraine a great deal over these past days, as you know — none of us can answer. The question is why was this done?
“I would like to draw your attention to the fact that President Yanukovych, through the mediation of the Foreign Ministers of three European countries — Poland, Germany and France — and in the presence of my representative (this was the Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin) signed an agreement with the opposition on Feb. 21.
“I would like to stress that under that agreement (I am not saying this was good or bad, just stating the fact) Mr. Yanukovych actually handed over power. He agreed to all the opposition’s demands: he agreed to early parliamentary elections, to early presidential elections, and to return to the 2004 Constitution, as demanded by the opposition.
“He gave a positive response to our request, the request of western countries and, first of all, of the opposition not to use force. He did not issue a single illegal order to shoot at the poor demonstrators. Moreover, he issued orders to withdraw all police forces from the capital, and they complied. He went to Kharkov to attend an event, and as soon as he left, instead of releasing the occupied administrative buildings, they [the armed militias] immediately occupied the President’s residence and the Government building — all that instead of acting on the agreement.
“I ask myself, what was the purpose of all this? I want to understand why this was done. He had in fact given up his power already, and as I believe, as I told him, he had no chance of being re-elected. Everybody agrees on this, everyone I have been speaking to on the telephone these past few days. What was the purpose of all those illegal, unconstitutional actions, why did they have to create this chaos in the country?”
Now, there also is independent evidence suggesting that elements of the right-wing militias may have killed both protesters and police to destabilize the Ukrainian government and justify the coup.
In the same news conference, Putin noted the U.S. government’s hypocrisy in decrying Russia’s intervention in Crimea. He said: “It’s necessary to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, where they acted either without any sanction from the U.N. Security Council or distorted the content of these resolutions, as it happened in Libya. There, as you know, only the right to create a no-fly zone for government aircraft was authorized, and it all ended in the bombing and participation of special forces in group operations.”
There is no denying the accuracy of Putin’s description of U.S. overreach in its interventions in the Twenty-first Century. Yet, Secretary of State John Kerry has ignored that history in denouncing Russia for using military force in the Crimea section of Ukraine. Kerry said on Tuesday: “It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of gun dictate what you are trying to achieve. That is not Twenty-first Century, G-8, major-nation behavior.”
Despite Kerry’s bizarre lack of self-awareness — as a senator he joined in voting to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq — it is Putin who gets called “delusional.” While virtually all mainstream U.S. news outlets join in the demonization of Putin, there have been almost no words about the truly delusional hypocrisy of U.S. officials. Ignored is the inconvenient truth that the U.S. military invaded Iraq, still occupies Afghanistan, coordinated a “regime change” war in Libya in 2011, and has engaged in cross-border attacks in several countries, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Though we’ve seen other examples of the U.S. political/media elite losing its collective mind — particularly during the crazed run-up to war in Iraq in 2002-2003 and the near stampede into another war with Syria in 2013 — the frantic madness over Putin and Ukraine is arguably the most dangerous manifestation of this nutty Official Washington “group think.”
Not only does Putin lead a powerful nation with a nuclear arsenal but his cooperation with President Obama on Syria and Iran have been important contributions toward tamping down the fires of what could become a wider regional war across the Middle East.
Yet, it is perhaps Putin’s assistance in finding peaceful ways out of last year’s Syrian crisis as well as getting Iran to negotiate seriously over its nuclear program — rather than pressing for violent “regime change” in the two countries — that earned Putin the undying enmity of the neocons who still dominate Official Washington and influence its “group think.”
Maybe that enmity explains part of the mysterious why behind the Ukraine crisis and the endless demonization of Putin.
Elliott Abrams, a leading neocon who oversaw Middle East policy on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff, was quick to pounce on the Ukraine crisis and the pummeling of Putin to urge a new push for legislation that would pile on more sanctions against Iran, a move that President Obama has warned could kill negotiations.
“This would be a very good time for Congress to pass the Menendez-Kirk legislation,” Abrams wrote. “One lesson of events in Ukraine is that relying on the good will of repressive, anti-American regimes is foolish and dangerous. Another is that American strength and strength of will are weakened at the peril of the United States and our friends everywhere.”
While at the NSC, Abrams was one of the neocon hardliners — along with Vice President Dick Cheney — who “”were all for letting Israel do whatever it wanted” regarding attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his memoir, "Duty."
That attack-Iran argument nearly carried the day during the final months of the Bush-43 administration since, according to Gates, “Bush effectively came down on Cheney’s side. By not giving the Israelis a red light, he gave them a green one.”
But a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, representing the views of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, concluded that Iran had stopped work on a nuclear weapon four years earlier. Bush has acknowledged that this NIE stopped him from going forward with military strikes on Iran.
The neocons, however, have never given up that dream. Now, with the “we-hate-Putin” group think gripping Official Washington, they may feel they have another shot.