30 March 2014

Peter Beinart on Russian and American neocons: an imaginary symmetry

Peter Beinart has written for The Atlantic a curios article, the real purpose of which is still unclear to me. The article is titled Vladimir Putin, Russian Neocon, which may give you a hint about the contents and subtitled: "How Russia's president resembles the American hawks who hate him most". The lede quite amply distills the contents.

This conclusion is supported by three different points of comparison:

1. Putin is obsessed with the threat of appeasement

Appeasement is, I strongly suspect, the main thread of the article, and we shall return to it at the end. However, trying to prove the symmetry of Russian (or Putin's) rejection of appeasement and the Western "hawks" rejection of same, prof Beinart is driven by linguistic similarities, disregarding the history of appeasement in Europe and United States. The appeasement during pre-WW II years, that cost many million lives in the end, the appeasement that allowed Soviet Union, China and lesser tyrants bloody suppression of dissent during the long post-WW II years, the appeasement that allows Syria and Iran butcher the Syrian population, that permits the travesty of the dictators' club pompously called United Nation - is it the same kind of appeasement that is being rejected by Putin?

Now pull the other one, prof Beinart.

As for the envy that, according to the author, some hawks feel toward Putin: I wouldn't want to argue against its existence. But if Americans today feel some envy looking at a decisive leader who doesn't dither, prevaricate and renege on promises and commitments - it must be difficult to judge them harshly.

2. Putin is principled—so long as those principles enhance national power

Beg pardon? This "principled" ex-KGB man will do what it takes to reach his goals and step on anyone who stands in his way. For many years his chief art (and occupation) was to isolate his most effective and outspoken rivals - from billionaire oligarchs to unruly reporters - and getting rid of them in a rich variety of methods all over the world. Now he turned his attention to expansion of Mother Russia under all kinds of unashamedly rude pretexts, not very different from the pre-WW II German acts of expansion. And prof Beinart calls this "principled"? Oh boy...

If this is not a cheap exercise in rhetoric, show me one, please.

3. Putin doesn’t understand economic power

Possibly, and I am not sure that Peter Beinart (or I for that matter) do fully understand the subject, both of us not being schooled in economics, as far as I am able to detect. One thing I know, though: try nurturing your economic power without being able to flex your military muscle, and let's see where it will get you in this world (that isn't very much invested in appeasement these days, at least not outside US and western Europe).

Now a general notice about the hawks that prof Beinart decries in the article. While the article itself operates mostly in some strange linguistic universe and is hardly supported by facts*, I would like to know one single thing about these menacing and frightening American hawks: how many square meters (OK, talk to me in square feet if you must) of foreign territory did they add to the territory of USA lately (or earlier, for that matter)?

On the other side of that imaginary equation: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Russian troops massing on the eastern borders of Ukraine with plans not very clear at the moment, but menacing nevertheless. Looks like USA hawks are rather ineffective, all things considered.

And nothing else needs to be argued, really. Still, being as much Jewish as prof Beinart, I would like to add a few bits and pieces to complete the picture. Let's start with comparison of mutual likes and dislikes of Russians and Americans.

Only a Quarter of Americans See Russia as an Enemy:

Since last November, the percentage viewing Russia as an adversary has risen eight points (from 18%) while the share saying it is a serious problem has increased seven points (from 36%). The number of Americans who do not think of Russia as much of a problem has fallen by almost half – from 40% then to 22% today.
While the trend, shown in the picture below, is that more Americans are becoming concerned about Russia, it's still easy to see that the current level of concern is nothing compared to the situation 30 years ago:

Notwithstanding the better general opinion that Russians express about Americans (about 60% positive) than vice versa (only 37% of Americans hold a favorable opinion of Russia), there is a hard core of America haters in Russia that isn't matched by anything even remotely similar in US. Of course, as a bilingual surfer, I am in a better position to judge than professor Beinart, but I guess that striving for linguistic and other symmetries depraved him of his usual passion for objectivity anyway.

The Russian Internet, whether it reflects the state of mind of the general population or only that of the surfers, is choke full of expressions of hate, derision and rejection addressed by Russians at the general American population. Here is a typical, albeit expressed in better English, example of such hate:

Click on it, please, and read it all, it's an important human document, a true presentation of the above mentioned hard core haters' considered opinion.

And, since language takes an important part in prof Beinart's article, is prof Beinart aware that, unlike in US English, Russian language has several terms of abuse, aimed specifically at Americans? "Pindos" being the newest of them. I can tell you that (besides and beyond that above linked article), the term "Pindos", when pronounced in Russian, carries a few additional flavors I wouldn't dare go into in this post. And, as the Russian Wiki discloses:
By absolute frequency of invocation in the Internet environment, invectives for Americans ("Amerikos", "Pindos", "Yankees" - 1.1 million mentions) took the second place, behind the Ukrainians ("Khohol" - 1.2 million mentions) and ahead of the Jews ("Kikes"/"Zhidy" - 1.0 million mentions).
Wow, ahead of "kikes" - that's not an easy feat in Russia, I can assure you.

All in all, I dare prof Beinart to find some symmetry in this too. And good luck. But as far as I know, American English doesn't include anything similar to "Pindos"...

I guess that prof Beinart, a student of history, knows all too well how easily a deft and manipulative ruler (sounds like Putin, doesn't it?) could turn the verbal violence into  real, physical one, at will. Enough said - I hope.

It would have been all, if the end of the article weren't more disturbing than the rest of it. It starts with somewhat relaxing remark:
None of this is to suggest that American and Russian actions are morally equivalent. For all its errors and crimes, American foreign policy is restrained by our democratic political system in a way Russia’s is not.
But the last sentence, that casual afterthought kind of turns the whole on its head:
Maybe “metrosexuality” and “mom jeans” aren’t so bad after all.
It refers (sympathetically) to appeasement and to the appeasing ways of the current POTUS and his administration.

And it shows an interesting and very, very much disturbing trend. If you put together the "progressive" left, presented in this case by Peter Beinart, the quite strong paleoconservative stream in American politics and the good part of today's libertarians, lead by Rand Paul and his daddy: the powers of isolationism (or, at least, relentless appeasement) in today's USA are considerable indeed.

Where does it end?

(*) Unless you consider the timely (and somewhat sympathetic) references to Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza and the late Caudillo Chavez to be part of the factual basis of the article, of course.


Dick Stanley said...

Naughty, naughty...

Dick Stanley said...

Beinart in The Atlantic? Lefty interpretation of events. But Rand is not an isolationist. That will become more obvious in the near future.

SnoopyTheGoon said...


SnoopyTheGoon said...

True for Beinart and for the venue. As for Rand P. - let's wait a bit.

Sennacherib said...

If the consequences were not so possibly bad, you could say there is a ton of humor in watching the Left and Obamaites deal with Putin. They are desperate for a foreign policy "win" and they have to have Putin on their "side" or they're not getting one. He knows it , they know it, and the world knows it. So the contortions they are going through are in that sense hysterical. That Putin guy he's bad, but not that bad, he's just on the wrong side of history and in the wrong century, but we'll talk to him and he'll see the light and get with the program. Just replace Henry with Putin in the following:

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Indeed, the contortions are considerable, and I don't want to resort to the much used and much beloved "head in backside" image, but they have definitely crawled in there some time ago, for lack of better venue.

What bothers me that the situation is very similar to the hysterical behavior of lefties before the WW II, when they have painted Hitler in pinkish colors to make sure their countries don't go to war.

rmill2k said...

Hi Snoops,
I agree, let's wait and see on Rand Paul, but from what I heard from people in Israel who were in contact with him during his trip there, Dick has it right.

As far as Putin goes, isn;y it amazing that the Left, who never failed to defend and support the Soviets no matter what are now indulging in serious Putin Hating!

The reason why is obvious...he embarrassed their idol, B. Hussein Obama.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Of course, sympathizing as I am with Libertarians, I would very much like to see an internationally-minded non-isolationist Rand Paul going to the top. But we shall see. I hope Dick is right too.

Yeah, and re the lefties' hate affair with Putin: it will pass, I predict. They will find his redeeming qualities, the chief of them being anti-Western, and then it will all come back...