Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea because Kosovo. Because Mom jeans. Because shirt off. The neocon Right projects its own failed fantasies onto cautious Russian realpolitik.
Six years ago, a month or so before the 2008 United States election, the Russians invaded Georgia after months of back-and-forth between the Russians and the Georgians over South Ossetia, the breakaway Russian-majority province that had ended up in Georgia during the carve-up of the USSR.
The Georgian government was a bunch of Oxford-Harvard educated right-wing kids, who read The Economist and made the mistake of believing what it said. When they had foolishly provoked their larger neighbour to the north once too often, and the Russians made an incursion — which, compared to recent US efforts, was a measure of gentle restraint — the neocon Right had yet another chance to roll out the Hitler metaphors, and “let slip the dogs of war”, etc. “We are all Georgians now,” John McCain said portentously, drawing an image of everyone in periwigs, playing the harpsichord.
Nothing at all was done, of course. The Russians stopped well short of Tbilisi and departed, while the Americans remained mired in Iraq. It seemed the first and clearest statement of a post-monopolar world, one in which there remained some disjuncture between American self-conception and messy global realities.
Boy, was that wrong. With the Iraq fiasco concluded, the Western foreign policy establishment appears to have felt unrestrained in: a) projecting an entirely bullshit notion of what Russia’s actions represents; and b) having no power to do anything at all about it.
Thus your correspondent woke yesterday morning to BBC Radio’s Today to hear Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the Iraq war, saying that “of course Crimea is for Europe a small, faraway place, but it brings to mind another Western leader talking about a small, faraway place …”. Good God. Like Kerry, he was willing to double-down on sheer hypocrisy, intoning that “we have to show the Russians that this isn’t the way the world works anymore”.
By this time, the right-wing press was filled with portentous pronouncements as to what Russian President Vladimir Putin would take next. The entire Ukraine? Moldova, and the breakaway Transnistrian exclave? The Baltic states? Sarah Palin chimed in, on Facebook, saying “I told ya so”, because she had suggested during the Georgian incursion that Putin would invade Ukraine. He hadn’t exactly, and no one had denied that he might if he had to, in any case, but it was sufficient to revive the down-home Sarah cult. McCain, meanwhile, had been photographed posing with Ukrainian “rebels”, one of whom was snapped days later giving a Nazi salute in the Maidan.
Following the accusation that Putin was moving on a plan to restore Greater Russia, the psycho-analyses began. Putin felt isolated and humiliated by the West, some said, because we had criticised the Sochi Olympics. He had never forgiven the West for its attack on Serbia during the Kosovo war, and this was his pan-Slavic moment. Psychiatrists were called in to give instant verdicts on his personality, which was held to be narcissistic (narcissist: noun; a successful politician you disagree with) and sections of the US Right were so keen to discredit President Barack Obama that they also formed a kind of calf-love for Putin, the strong leader, who hunts sedated tigers with his shirt off, while, in Palin’s words, on Fox News, “wears mom jeans”.
“We are in an interzone of global polticis, one whose sovereignty is recognised by no one, least of all the neocon Right …”
Yet charging Obama with weakness was not easy, because no one on the Right was willing to come out and urge military action. The Australian had just such a piece, via academic John Besemeres, which urged the West to “say nyet” to Putin’s expansive dreams, tracked through a thousand or so words of Russian history, collective psychological attitude to the West, etc, before concluding with a lame invocation:
“For too long the Western responses to these provocations have been tepid and tactful. It is high time they became more emphatic.”
Together with an asinine piece from the pseudo-centrist right-wing think tank the Lowy Institute, which blamed the invasion on the March in March.
The response to all this overblown nonsense could be summed up in a single phrase: Occam’s razor. Prefer the simplest explanation — that being, in this case, that Crimea holds Russia’s only warm-water port access, that the European Union has been trying to draw the Ukraine away from Russia with little more than economic blackmail for the last six months, and that the Crimea is ethnically Russian and was only added to the Ukraine in the ’50s, as an administrative move within the USSR. All pretty clear realpolitik geostrategic motives for a neat and contained annexation. There is no sign that Putin will do anything except that which is circumspect, cautious, and oriented to clear Russian interests.
Indeed, what is really bizarre about these events — Georgia and now Ukraine — is that the West piles on ever more ludicrously overblown interpretations of Russian behaviour, the more rationally the country pursues foreign policy aims — and the more effective it is in achieving desired outcomes at minimal cost. Meanwhile, the more the Western neocon establishment projects crusading and metaphysical politics onto others, the more it has been consumed by that process itself, to its detriment .
Thus Afghanistan, had it been run on the model of Putin’s Georgia invasion, would have achieved 90% of what it has achieved now, for 1% of the cost, in blood and treasure. And the true war for greater imperial purpose is Iraq, a conflict driven by, in the words of one US general, a belief that “my God is bigger than their God”. Whether such projection of powerlessness is the last stage of losing global dominance — a process that I think Obama is trying to manage among his raddled citizens, with a series of proposed sanctions for domestic consumption, which he knows the European Union will never agree to — or simply a new stage of it remains to be seen. We are in an interzone of global politics, one whose sovereignty is recognised by no one, least of all the neocon Right, always losing the last culture war.
Thus I say to you, we are all Transnistrian now, and everyone else is Hitler.