Vladimir Putin, “moderate”

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James Carden

We’ve recently discussed James Carden, the Nation contributor and Putin apologist (excuse the redundancy) who in an epically long May article smeared a thoroughgoing report on pro-Putin propaganda in the West. What has Carden been up to since? Well, in early July, a video was posted online in which Carden and three other admirers of the Kremlin honcho had, or pretended to have, a conversation in which they addressed the question: “Is the invitation for Ukraine to join Europe’s economic association a means to expand NATO’s jurisdiction?” The conversation could not be called a debate, because all four were in total agreement on every major point, and in fact the word conversation is probably not the best choice, either, given that the video, a rather slick production, was obviously edited and also bore traces of being at least partly scripted, coached, or planned. In other words, it had the feel not of a free-wheeling, spontaneous discussion but of a well-packaged piece of propaganda.

About the videotape. It was recorded at the offices of Verso Books, the self-described “radical” publishing house that was founded in 1970 by the staff of the New Left Review. It was posted at therealnews.com, a radical “news” website that calls itself “the missing link in the global media landscape” (one of its directors is Danny Glover, whose useful stoogery we’ll get around to in the next few days). The Nation itself appears to have had something to do with putting it together. And the person identified as the moderator of the discussion, Alexander Reed Kelly, is an editor at truthdig.com, another radical “news” site that describes itself as “drilling beneath the headlines.” In short, a far-left perfect storm.

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Michael Hudson

Along with Carden and Kelly, the participants in this discussion were Michael Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Jeffrey Sommers, a professor of political economy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Hudson and Sommers are something of a pro-Putin, anti-capitalist tag team who have collaborated on articles in which they’ve (for example) compared the Koch brothers to “Russia’s oligarchs.”

The description of the chat furnished at the Real News website added helpfully that the four men “explain why Russia may not be able to tolerate a foreign military alliance along its western border.” Make of that wording what you will; we found it interesting, especially given that at no point did any of these men betray the remotest interest in the question of why the free nations along that border – among them not only the Baltic republics, Poland, and Ukraine, but also, let’s not forget, Norway and Finland – should be expected to tolerate an increasingly aggressive and increasingly dictatorial power along their borders without choosing to enter voluntarily into a defensive alliance with one another as well as with other free nations willing to help protect them from invasion.

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Alexander Reed Kelly

But then again, Carden and his three colleagues claim not to consider NATO a defensive alliance. Not anymore, anyway. The crisis between Russia and the West, Carden insisted, “is being driven by the desire to put Ukraine into NATO,” which, he said, no longer has anything to do with mutual defense. “We’re a long way from that now,” he maintained, and then served up this interesting assertion: “There’s something very wrong with the idea that NATO and the European Union have to expand to include nearly the entirety of the former Soviet space.” Pause, if you will, over those last four words: “the former Soviet space.” This seems a curious way to refer to those countries that were freed from the Kremlin yoke. Carden can fairly be read here, it seems to us, as implying some kind of lingering right, on the part of the Kremlin, to have a say in what goes on in that “space.”

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The “moderate” of the Kremlin

When Kelly suggested that there was an “understanding” after the fall of Soviet Union that NATO wouldn’t ever expand eastward, Sommers agreed, and opined that it’s “foolish” for NATO to be “taking former Soviet territory” – a formulation that leaves little doubt that Sommers, at least, believes that Moscow should indeed have something resembling a veto right over what happens in “former Soviet territory.” This eastward expansion by NATO, Sommers added, has given “the Russian leadership…tremendous pause regarding the United States’ intentions,” as if it were at all reasonable to think that Putin & co. really believe NATO has any designs on their turf. Sommers then expressed a tender regard for Russian concern about “the military advance of an alliance up to its borders,” citing past invasions of Russia from the west (by Napoleon, in 1812, and Hitler, in 1941) as reasons for that concern; needless to say, Sommers showed no similar regard for the concerns of the Baltic republics and other Eastern European countries, which have been brutally violated by Russia on multiple occasions over the centuries, and all of which have been under the Russian boot within living memory, with Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 experiencing Soviet incursions that cruelly crushed efforts at democratic reform within their borders.

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Jeffrey Sommers

Hudson chimed in by saying that “today the aim of NATO is to make Europe insecure against the Soviet [sic!] threat” and that “it is as if the Americans were trying to prod Putin into doing something intemperate.” In short, NATO is “restarting the Cold War.” Sommers concurred: “NATO is a force for instability and its increasing the possibility for military conflict.” He rejected the idea that Putin’s an aggressor, claiming that good ol’ Vlad is actually “somewhat of a moderate” when it comes to having imperial designs on former Soviet states, and that, indeed, he’s “a restraining force” against other top Kremlin figures who, given their druthers, wouch take over the whole Ukraine tomorrow. Carden echoed this assessment: Putin’s a “moderate” who’s “surrounded by hawks.” All of which is kind of like saying to an Italian in the 1930s: “Be grateful you’re living under Mussolini; you could be living under Hitler.”

3 thoughts on “Vladimir Putin, “moderate”

  1. Jeffrey Sommers here (one of the referenced ‘subjects’ of this post). Wish to clarify four points.

    My son and spouse are both ethnic Latvians and both Latvian citizens. While my views on the crisis might not comport with yours, and we are of course free to have our differing views, I am a strong advocate for Baltic independence. I’m fully aware of the horrors Stalin’s occupation wrought in the Baltics.

    My view that Putin is a relative (note, “relative”) moderate compared to more strident potential adventurers (A. Dugin, et al.) calling for invasion and annexation of all Ukraine. I also think Nato expansion potentially provides less, not more, security for Europe. A view that was shared, incidentally, by the architect of the U.S. Cold War containment policy, the late George F. Kennan. I have also previously stated the normative right of any independent nation to join any defensive alliance it likes. Whether it is wise to do so, however, is a matter of interpretation and my view, again, aligns with the late dean of US Cold War diplomats, Mr. Kennan.

    Regarding economies, I am for investment and real production, of the type that occurred in the high-growth economy of post WW II Finland, which is unlike the largely rent-seeking (wealth extracting) economies of both Russia and the US today.

    Regarding the video referenced, one can like it or not, but it was not scripted, but a conversation….

    Like

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