"whataboutism" is a self-indicting critique
Cancel your own subscriptions, please, those of you who are emailing me. It's easier for you than me in practical terms and if the point is to discipline me it will have the opposite effect. I could have written about anything today. But I'm staking my claim and I am not going to self-censor.
I genuinely, to some extent, don't understand where you're coming from. Let's compare the invasion of Ukraine to the assassination of Mossadegh. Russia announces it will never permit a NATO-aligned Ukraine; the US says it will never permit a USSR-aligned Iran. They attack to dismantle both regimes. Both are completely and obviously unacceptable. The Iraq war, by this line, was equally unacceptable. You could argue about Afghanistan, whether it attacked and the moral status of punitive war. All the others were wars of expanding spheres of influence for their own sake, and that is not morally unacceptable. These cases are clear. The Iranian did not 'cause' Mossadegh's assassination, and America did not 'cause' the invasion of Ukraine – you claim the latter, and that's the problem. It is the invader that transgressed morality, not the geopolitical actors who wanted to align away from them.
I also think you have a very America-centric view of this. Russia goes on about NATO, but the bigger danger is Ukraine joining the EU. Central and Eastern European countries have two competing vision – integration with the well-managed and affluent Western economies under relatively favorable terms, or domination by Russia. Anyone given the choice would easily choose the former, and most post-Communist regimes have. That's the dream of the West – the EU, not NATO – and America has very little to do with it. Ukraine wants to be Poland because, why wouldn't you? I say this writing from Poland – it's obvious you wouldn't want to be dominated by Russia.
Alignment with the EU or NATO is alignment with the West in general regardless of how you formulate it. Maybe a Finland solution could have worked, but may be not – you also seem to discount the possibility that Putin is anything but a rational pragmatist, and that revanchism in regaining Ukraine and national pride in general could motivate him. But overall, Ukraine chose pursuing EU/NATO membership at all costs as a defence against Russia and there's no reason to think giving up that defence would have resulted in anything other than domination. Of course you want to escape that – Ukraine tried and was succeeding, and Russia decided to fight a war to stop it. Your argument boils down to 'if they didn't want a war they should have just surrendered' – but isn't that their choice to make?
NATO should have been dissolved in 1991 just as the Warsaw Pact was.
First, Freddie I think you should take a couple of days off. I especially don't see how you think leaving nasty replies to your paying subscribers is a good thing. Second, I've been sort of with you, or more broadly in the camp of "yes, this is bad but the US does bad stuff all the time too" camp. But each time you post on this you sound more and more pro everything Russia does and more anti everything the US does. And that, coupled with your pro communist political philosophy is bound to make many people feel uncomfortable. Your inclusion of Venezuela as a land where everyone is happily Communist but the US is mean to them is particularly wacky. Likewise, adding stuff like Vietnam and Cambodia is anachronistic. If you want a coherent set of standards during the Cold War, it's simple. The Soviet Union and the US were mortal enemies but unable to fight directly. So anything goes in using other countries as proxies. But you can't go back to things the US did to fight communism around the world during the Cold War without mentioning the long list of Soviet atrocities as well. And neither are relevant to today's situation.
So to get to a proper reframing of your question, I think we need to develop a set of standards for both countries post Cold War. You posit that expansion of NATO to the Russian border was the catalyst and somehow justifies, or makes less horrible, this unprovoked aggression. But that's nonsensical. NATO is already on their border via the Baltic States, there was no move afoot to add Ukraine to NATO, and as others have noted, occupying Ukraine just puts more of NATO on their doorstep and has had the very predictable effect of awakening the long dormant alliance. So the standard you seem to think is ok is that any country can invade a bordering country and from your list of examples it seems that invading a non-bordering country is is morally worse than a bordering one. Nobody else believes that and it's a terrible standard.
I'd say the standard which has been twisted and stretched more and more is still that military force is acceptable only in defensive situations. Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine clearly violates any version of that standard no matter how pro-Russia you are. It has violated all the international norms. Now the stretchy part comes from the US war on terrorism. The first war on Iraq, when it invaded Kuwait, was just an acceptable (in my view) rebuff of an unprovoked invasion. The other events, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria can all be grouped under an anti terrorism banner. This can easily be disputed and the culpability of the various players is far from clear. And I'd go further to say that the second Iraq invasion was completely unprovoked. So I think we have some sort of hazy humanitarian standard that we invoke very selectively to justify our actions as well. So somehow using this only defensive wars standard and a rule that a nastier country shouldn't invade a less nasty country seem to be the policy that the world has stumbled on. And Russia's invasion of Ukraine has violated both of these.
In which FdB, strident (and typically persuasive) moralist, still struggles to find a position more compelling than "America bad too," and insists that those who are not compelled by "America bad too" are the ones engaged in faulty reasoning
I gotta give you credit, Freddie. When you’re right you’re really right. And when you’re wrong you don’t do it in half measures.
"Any minimally-honest answer would acknowledge that NATO exists as an antagonist to Russia. That’s it." But you're just begging the question. If that is the case, then the rest of this essay is unnecessary; if it isn't, the rest is wrong.
So you need to make that case: Why is it only an antagonist to Russia? Why not also a mutual defense pact against a powerful neighbor with wildly differing values of human rights and governance? Why is the onus on NATO to limit its members, instead of on Russia to join Europe in a peaceful trade-based future.
For example, it should be clear even to Russia that despite the American military bases in Germany, the US has no intention (or likely even capacity) to invade or topple governments. Which means if Russia gave up its antagonism to the West, it would merely become like Germany but even larger, so it really has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“ NATO kept on opposing the interests of Russia and its people”
I have this very vivid memory of reading your position on Israel/Palestine, where you talked about always being on the side of the person being stepped on, not the boot doing the stepping, but now I cannot for the life of me find it.
To be clear, I'm not accusing you of deleting it or anything, just interesting in either a 'huh, my memory is weird,' or 'huh, I can't manage to properly search the archives' sense.
On topic, I will say that I think there's a slide here from 'the United States doesn't have the moral authority to opine on the morality of this' to 'Americans don't have the moral authority to condemn this' which are different things.
More generally, I think this overlooks the value of hypocrisy. Do you really think Soviet union gave a shit about African Americans being lynched? But that sort of criticism is warranted, even if hypocritical. It's a lot easier to see the speck then the log, after all.
And it's easy to say that's just hypocrisy, but the speck is present and should be removed. Pointing it out (as you say! This is just a matter of where you focus, whether it's on American actions or Russian actions (and of course, current or former actions, which is also sort of relevant)) is relevant.
And I guess I'm unconvinced by the argument that "our first priority and greatest influence lies in America’s government." That can be true, but I don't think necessarily is true. The influence part shifts radically depending on circumstance, as does the priority. I don't think there's anything inappropriate in a moment when the US has withdrawn from Afghanistan, mostly withdrawn from Iraq to focus your concern on the military action occurring at this moment which has created a million refugees in the past week.
ETA: Also, I think a lot of this shifts depending on location and your readership is very much not solely American (though, for the record, I am).
I have no problem in viewing American and Russian imperialism as two sides of the same coin. While you can attempt to draw distinctions, its difficult to separate the invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Ukraine. Of course, Zelensky is no Saddam, but the US still invaded and violated to sovereignty of another country under false pretense with the express purpose of regime change. Sounds pretty familiar.
Of course the US would act in a similar way to Russia under similar circumstances - it already has. (BTW you forgot the coup against Allende in Chile in your recitation of US atrocities in the Americas.) All of this is morally repugnant, but I feel no need to wrestle with, and atone for, the sins of my country in order to criticize what's happening in Ukraine. Even if one supported the invasion of Iraq, that does not preclude criticism of the invasion of Ukraine.
The US has absolutely no moral authority in this, but who does? Maybe Bhutan? Lacking moral purity doesn't mean that a state can't view the invasion of Ukraine as the moral horror that it is.
I'd love for this moment in time to become the moment where the US, as a state, self-reflects and creates a marked turn in international policy and relations between nations, but I know that won't happen. I'll settle for the state turning to help the people who need it.
Not addressing the rightness or wrongness.
The rapidity of side-taking with flags and memes reminds me of the yellow ribbons everywhere in 1991. I saw jubilation online over a Russian performer yanked from a concert.
Before World War I, the United States was home to a flourishing German culture. But it was abruptly wiped out by a fury of anti-German hysteria that swept the country and trampled upon the civil liberties of millions of German-Americans. (Burning Beethoven: The Eradication of German Culture in the United States during World War I-Erik Kirschbaum).
Let me make the counter-case here that no US action in the 20th or 21st century is comparable to what Putin is doing right now in Ukraine.
To be clear about what Putin is doing, he is invading a liberal democracy with 100,000+ soldiers in order to crush its democratically elected government and replace it with a puppet.
The closest the US has come to this is our invasion of Iraq. But Iraq was not a liberal democracy. Iraq was a military dictatorship that, under Saddam Hussein, had launched multiple wars of choice against peaceful neighbors. Iraq did not have any respect at all for the liberal international order and did not deserve its protection.
Invading Iraq was a mistake. But it wasn't /unjustified/. The failure was hubris, the belief that American power is limitless and we can do whatever we please without consequences. It was the belief that we could surgically remove a dictator and simply assert democratic norms and everything would work out great. But if it WAS possible to cleanly and simply remove authoritarian dictators with no consequences, then we would be justified (obligated in fact) to do so wherever possible.
Vietnam was also a terrible mistake that cost countless lives for no gain. We committed enormous resources to support one brutal dictator we happened to like over another brutal dictator we didn't like. Stupid and foolish behavior based on the deeply flawed domino theory. But still, NOT an invasion of a liberal democracy with the attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government.
Our various coups and such across the globe are foolish and bad. And in many cases, totally unjustified and acting against legitimate governments. Yet still, there is a world of difference between a handful of CIA agents mucking around causing trouble and an actual invasion with tanks and artillery. They're just not the same thing.
Putin's antics leading up to the invasion were, I think, somewhat comparable to US misbehavior. He poisoned leaders he didn't like, he intentionally destabilized Ukrainian politics, and he encouraged separatists to wage a guerilla war. These actions were bad, but I think mostly comparable to the type of bad thing the US does.
Launching a full invasion is a totally different category of bad behavior.
The desire for meetings to begin with land acknowledgments, for people to perform privilege walks, and other types of ritualistic self-flagellation based on the collective crimes of our ancestors and “affinity group” members, are cut from the same cloth as the desire for any discussion of world events to include a denunciation of our nation’s crimes, and equally as productive.
Can we get a version of this post scrubbed of the histrionic smugness? I think you were about to make a good point but I stop reading when you start dunking on the critics in your head who sound like absolutely no one I’ve ever met.
How is "moral introspection" different from "whataboutism"? And I don't think there has to be a set of coherent principles applied equally to the US and Russia, because Vladimir Putin is an autocrat, a kleptocrat, and a doofus. What we're talking about here is not The United States and Russia; it's the international order vs. That One Guy Vladimir Putin. They're different things.
God this is so bad.