Vladimir Putin Russia hacking

In recent hours, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has charged the US and its allies with “Russophobia”. If you like, you can make like The New York Times and dismiss this, like everything Putin says, as the nationalistic styling of a colourful despot. If you prefer, you can think that Russophobia is a real, if manufactured, ill, now contracted by the children of Cold War like intergenerational flu.

It’s easy not to love Putin, but it should not, and must not, be this easy to loathe him and the nation he represents. Yes, the guy seems like a raging kleptocrat whose abhorrence for homosexual activity may only be outdone by his abhorrence for wearing a shirt. But there are some pretty solid reasons to play nice with Russia. There are about 4500 operational reasons in Russia of the present. The recent past of Kosovo and Chechnya should remind us that bad relations between Moscow and Washington cost lives and money and time. And do we US allies really want this guy who purports to be rebuilding a great Russian army from steel and automation to find a friend in China? You can take the “stand up to bullies” line of US playground diplomacy if you want. Or, you can be a realist.

There is little that is realist about the current Russophobic discourse playing out through press. Instead, there’s preparation for Clinton’s ideological approach to foreign policy. Perhaps when supporters of this politician say things like, “Today some suggest … that Western states are just as bad. But they aren’t. They can’t be: Any Western government that did what Mr. Putin did … to Aleppo, would fall, and would deserve to” she absolutely believes them. But this “they’re just worse” stuff coming from the same gobs that endorsed the disastrous invasion of Libya is not the realism that, even just a year ago, many were saying was urgently needed.

[Russia is winning the Syrian war]

It was not so long ago that our own Foreign Minister urged for sober solutions in Syria, where Russia is now alleged to have done something far worse than “any Western government” in giving its support to Assad. When journalists asked Julie Bishop in 2015 how she could lend support to the Ba’athist butcher, she reminded them of realpolitik: “I don’t for a moment shy away from the comments that we have made in the past about the illegitimacy of the regime,” she said. But come on. We all remember what comes out when the power vacuum is set to reverse.

Honestly, I think we do remember. You’re hard-pressed these days to find an everyday person who can argue for US tactics in Iraq. Everyone from Unapologetic Racists For Trump to the Socialist Alternative will tell you that allies made ISIS, or at least that Saddam, recently compared by Obama to Putin, is not looking so bad in the rear-view.

Domestically and internationally, the manufactured Islamophobia that lubricated US strikes 13 years ago is starting to fail. Laugh if you want at Kremlin claims of Russophobia, but it’s working nicely as a unifying hate substitute for Madam Nominee.

Clinton has been especially careful throughout her campaign to frame Muslims as actual humans, with the appearance of a Muslim Gold Star family at the Democratic National Convention working especially well. Along with persons who uttered the details of their abortion, their rape, their sexuality, their culture and their suffering, the Khans stood committed to their religion. I don’t recall seeing a Russian American proud on the DNC stage.

[Razer: Trump, Clinton go to war exploiting abused women]

Islamophobia is not a strategy for Clinton. Its cold Bush-era leftovers are still devoured by Trump voters, but Clinton voters have turned to the more acceptable Russophobia. And, heck, I’m not saying that I want to go and live in Russia, but the uneasy fact is, Putin has actually done some good. He’s tamed the capitalism so new to his nation. And, depending on whom you listen to, his record on human rights is markedly better than Yeltsin’s. Speaking of whom. If you want to talk, as Clinton does, about interference in foreign elections, let’s have a close look at his in 1996.

Western states are, at times, “just as bad” and just as propagandist as Russia. In recent days, The Washington Post and other storied outlets have been churning out headlines bold enough to eclipse the lack of evidence, down about paragraph four, that “dumb” Russia falsified emails for publication by WikiLeaks. Actually, “dumb” journalists, as kneejerk now in their distaste for Putin as they were for Saddam, got it terribly wrong, and only Glenn Greenwald has the patience to trace the genealogy of these errors.

It feels very 2003 up in here. A government strategically throws around a few suggestions about hating a particular group to justify its rotten foreign policy, and to distract from its rotten domestic policy. They abandon it when journalists “voluntarily” take it up. Large numbers of the people are left believing what they have been told, and parts of the culture are frozen for decades in this antique hatred. Next, journalists then tell them they are racist, ignorant fools, politicians rush to embrace representatives of the marginalised group, and we rinse, repeat.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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