by Matthew Lenoe on March 20, 2014Comments Off on Dangerous Blather: Frida Ghitlis at CNN on Ukraine
Crossposted from my “Russia and the World Blog” at www.mlenoe.wordpress.com
Some of the US mainstream press coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has been relatively good, such as Fareed Zakaria’s commentary. A lot more is garbage. Today’s “most ignorant blather” award goes to Frida Ghitis, who has a front page headline on CNN right now. Ghitis presents the crisis as the beginning of “a new Cold War,” opines that Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons when the USSR collapsed, mocks peace activists, and suggests that “nobody fears America any more” and that that is a bad thing.
First, let’s discuss something that seems to be entirely missing in the US press coverage of Ukraine this month — in 1990, as the western powers and the Soviet Union negotiated the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Germany, German Foreign Minister Genscher and US Secretary of State James Baker both assured Soviets that NATO would not be expanded beyond the eastern frontier of Germany. This was to balance the fact that eastern Germany was about to fall into the NATO orbit with German reunification, and that Hungary and other former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe were about to hold free elections. Western diplomats wanted to forestall Soviet fears of NATO expansion into that area, and prevent a reaction like the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. While there has been debate about whether such reassurance was actually given, this article from Der Spiegel, pretty much ices it …
The Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria are all now NATO members and in 2008-2009 there were serious diplomatic discussions of possible Ukrainian and Georgian membership (this was part of the background for the 2008 Russo-Georgian War). Ukrainian forces have engaged in small joint exercises with NATO forces. From the Russian point of view, NATO troops in Ukraine would be a knife pointed straight at Russia’s heart in Moscow.
Any wonder the Russians might feel betrayed? Certainly the Russian leadership (which is itself deeply cynical) has reason to doubt the trustworthiness of western diplomatic engagements.
OK, now. Is a new “Cold War” beginning? No. Perhaps a different kind of confrontation, but not the Cold War. Remember that one very important component of the Cold War was the ideological clash between Communism and capitalist democracy … at least that’s what everyone thought the conflict was about. The stakes were apocalyptic — who controlled the future of humanity. Putin wants a powerful, secure Russia that commands international respect. That is what this is about from his point of view. Moreover, Putin’s Russia is not the Soviet Union redux, nor is Putin Stalin redux. First, capitalism in today’s Russia has a comfortable home — one of the myths Americans hold onto is that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand. In fact there have been and are many capitalist authoritarian states, including Hitler’s Germany. Putin is an oppressive authoritarian and abuser of human rights, but the level of repression and state violence in Putin’s Russia does not approach that under Stalin. The political,economic and social structures of Russia today are far different from those in the USSR under Stalin, or for that matter, later.
What ignorant “commentators” like Ghitis do contributes to a *western* understanding of this new confrontation as apocalyptic, which is the last thing we need.
Ghitis suggests that it is too bad Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons when she seceded from the Soviet Union. Oh boy, that’s just what we need in this confrontation — a Ukraine threatening to use nuclear weapons if Russia takes action in Crimea! … the threat of an all-out nuclear exchange — even the explosion of a few dozen hydrogen bombs would have catastrophic consequences for Europe and the entire globe.
Never mind the fact that Ghitis almost certainly would oppose Iran getting nuclear weapons. What if Ukraine had nuclear weapons, and a far-right dictator came to power? The last is certainly possible.
So, Frida, nuclear weapons for countries we like right now? That’s your declaration of principle?
Ghitis presents the recent revolution in Ukraine in very simplistic terms, as the result of popular yearning for capitalism and democracy. The reality is far more complicated, and among the Ukrainian revolutionaries are extreme nationalists disposed towards street violence who have no interest in human rights, free elections, legislative democracy, etc.
Then Ghitis gives us the usual cheap mockery of peace activists. Some of the latter may be niave, but at least they don’t advocate sending other people’s children to war while they themselves sit at home playing keyboard warrior, as Ghitis does.
Ghitis decries the fact that the United States is not feared internationally. First, I think that this is a false statement … among other things we still spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined, or nearly so. But let’s assume it is correct. So apparently invading Iraq and Afghanistan, killing hundreds and running covert special operations in Pakistan, spending all this money on the military, etc. did not scare the rest of the world? What would? Nuking Russia?
The underlying assumption that the US has been passive and “weak” in international affairs is simply false.
Remember that one response to aggressiveness is aggressiveness. Putin and his advisers certainly see the United States as a global hegemon, and most US commentators would agree… many of the latter just seem to assume everyone else should e *happy* we are hegemon.
I don’t like Putin or his policies in the least — in fact I despise them. But the situation is dangerous, and we need a complex understanding of the world to defuse it… not Ghitis’ bluster.
Where does the mainstream media find these people?