Some viewers have written we are too critical of Russia and don’t focus enough on NATO expansion. Paul responds in an interview hosted by Colin Bruce Anthes.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Welcome to theAnalysis.news. I’m Colin Bruce Anthes, a Canadian educator, activist, and organizer with Community Wealth Candidates. In a few seconds, we’ll be talking to Paul Jay in-depth in a three-part interview, culminating in many months of coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Stay tuned.
Paul Jay, our usual host, has been presenting in-depth analysis and coverage of major issues for decades. Throughout the Ukraine-Russia crisis, he’s been doing long-form interviews with experts of various backgrounds while developing his own positions. He has been highly critical of both Putin and the U.S. NATO positions, which has opened him up to criticisms from all sides. He has invited me, in the name of good faith discussion and coverage, to present him with a number of positions and challenges, which he will try to answer to as well as he can.
Please note that this means that I will be presenting positions that are not necessarily my own, though I will try and present them as clearly as if they were. Paul, shall we jump on in?
Yeah, please. Thanks for doing this.
Colin Bruce Anthes
My pleasure. I’d like to begin by presenting a little bit of context, which is the context of how Vladimir Putin started to come to power. This is something that a lot of people feel is left out as we look at current notions of national identity and power relations, which I know is something that you have been tapping into quite a lot. So in case anybody thinks that I’m using a pro-Soviet position here, I’m going to mention somebody or cite somebody who has been brought up and repopularized by the Right, particularly Jordan Peterson. This is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the author of The Gulag Archipelago. A lot of people don’t know what Solzhenitsyn was writing in the 1990s, and this is, as Boris Yeltsin is now in power, a very right-wing form of government in terms of how its economic system is being presented in Russia, initially called libertarian capitalism. Boris Yeltsin had Chicago school economists who said that in six months, the markets would start to correct, and in a few years, it would grow into the fourth largest economy on Earth. Here’s Solzhenitsyn on the results.
He says the most vivid reflection and assessment of our reforms can be ascertained from our demographics. Here are some statistics now known worldwide. In 1993, deaths in Russia outnumbered births by 800,000. The suicide rate sharply increased, accounting for up to a third of all unnatural deaths. People who have despaired and do not see, why live? Why give birth? We are dying out. And Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who was working in Russia at the time, said the United States was very keen to see Russia turn into a hyper-capitalist country, but they were not keen on providing aid to smooth that transition because they wanted to be the only superpower on Earth, and they were happy to see Russia crumble. Ultimately, Putin comes to power when Yeltsin is forced to resign with an apology for his naivete.
Do you think that this context is something that is important to understanding some of the current sentiments that Russians and Putin hold people on different sides of this border? And do you think it’s being neglected and left out?
Just to get started, let me say the reason I wanted to do this is not that I consider myself a great expert on these issues. I get a chance to talk to a lot of smart people, as you mentioned, but there’s been a lot of emails and comments on all the various platforms asking me, what do I think about this? What do I think about that? How dare you condemn Putin? How dare you condemn NATO? I thought I’d at least give some answers as best I could so people know where I’m coming from as I continue to do interviews about this.
So all that said, of course, it’s critical context to understand the process of the demolition, collapse, whatever term you want to use of the Soviet Union, the 1990s, and the rise of Putin. It’s in some ways a bit of a historical anomaly, what happened with the Soviet Union and the roots of this current Russian capitalism. As it begins, the ’90s, when the red flag goes down and Yeltsin declares the end of the Soviet Union, there’s this weird thing left: an enormous military structure, a nuclear weapons arsenal, more or less equivalent to the United States, maybe not quite in some ways, but way more than enough to blow up the United States and the world. So it’s a very significant military power, even if, as the ’90s unfolds, much of the economy is in chaos and destroyed; the industrial base and other parts of the economy.
So it’s this weird giant military with a pygmy— I hope I’m not insulting anybody— chaotic economy, which, as you point out in that quote, the Americans were more or less quite happy with and didn’t quite know what to do with. They were overjoyed with their, quote-unquote, victory over the Soviet Union, which really had far more to do with internal processes of the collapse of socialism and extremely bureaucratic economy, bureaucratized economy, and politics.
Yes, the external pressure of the arms race, and the invasion of Afghanistan, they’re contributing factors. The underlying problem was the way socialism was built in the Soviet Union, which was doomed and faded to collapse, in my mind, because they tried to have this centrally planned economy that you were figuring out with a pencil and paper, and you just can’t do it. Without getting into much detail, it became so bureaucratized, so heavy with pencil and paper, the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, that they just could not keep up with a modern, complicated economy. Of course, there are many other reasons.
The state itself had mostly become very unpopular, and because it wasn’t really working, it never democratized even after the end of Stalinism. So it comes to an end, and then the ’90s become this process, where I think the Americans in the West hoped that it would become not just a free for all, but a free for all where Americans could take advantage, and where eventually American capital could come in and control the financial system. Especially the raw materials that would be grabbed by western mining and oil companies.
In the course of the ’90s and the chaos, what really happened is that the apparatchiks from the party and the state, they grabbed most of the resources. So you had this rise of the oligarchs and the billionaire class coming out of much of the people that prior to had claimed to be communist, which is a joke in itself— tells you something about just how communist that communist party was.
As we get towards the end of the ’90s, the way I understand it, the situation is so crazy. Yeltsin is drunk, out of control, and corrupt. To have a coherent capitalist system, which everybody wanted— what I mean by everyone, the Russian oligarchs, on the whole, wanted some rules-based order because they’d already profited from this era of Wild West, or we should call it Wild East. Now that you own all this stuff, you need a system that protects your ownership and some kind of rules within which you make money. If you just have this crazy grabbing of stuff, primitive grabbing of stuff, it impedes how much profit you can make. Eventually, people are very fed up with this, so you’re just asking for a rebellion from the people. The West wanted it too.
In general, the way that U.S. capital works, they prefer rules-based order as long as it’s open to their capital. They don’t want rule-based order that pushes back; that’s too nationalistic. They prefer some kind of rules so that if you invest, you’re going to be able to protect your investment. It’s not going to get grabbed by somebody.
So Putin— if it hadn’t been Putin, it would have been somebody else. The Russian capitalist system and global capitalism wanted some kind of coherent leadership to create a state the same way states operate in the West. What they didn’t want, and they were, I guess, now looking back— and if one looks at the history of Russia, in theory, they should have understood, you’re not going to get a state in Russia that isn’t nationalistic, because that’s the history, that’s the culture, that’s how Russia is held together. Nationalism is an extremely important fabric for making such a large place with so many diverse populations. If you don’t have this overarching Russian nationalism, it’s very hard to keep this thing together.
I have to say the same thing about the United States. If the Americans didn’t keep pumping American chauvinism, American nationalism, and this religion of Americanism so everyone’s, quote-unquote, united. Oh, why are we so disunited? Well, you’re so disunited because you’re made up of so many different sectors of people. Most importantly, you’re a class society, so you’re inherently disunited. The same thing, of course, was true of Russia.
Putin comes to represent the natural process of capitalism to create some coherency, some laws, all in the protection of private property, and starting with the property all these oligarchs have seized. The ’90s was such a disaster for the Russian people and the former Soviet republics too. In terms of infant mortality rates, more longevity of life, and education, I mean, it all went to levels that were far below what had existed in the last years of the Soviet Union. In fact, there was a growing nostalgia for the Soviet Union amongst— in fact, there still is some, but amongst much of the population.
So Putin was a necessary thing. Everybody wanted this. But then what happens is, if you look at the objectivity of what Russia is, one, this outsized, punch above your weight military, which is not going to go away. Two, a large population—what is it like, 140 million people or something like that? Canada is like, I think, the 9th or 10th biggest economy in the world. What is Canada? Thirty-five million now, if you want to be generous. So everything about Russia in terms of its natural resources, the history of an educated people, its size, access to European markets, and access to Asian markets, everything about Russia is it has everything to be a major and regionally dominant economy. Its weakness is, weirdly enough, because it’s a fossil fuel economy, they just don’t diversify the way they could have. What do they call it? The Dutch disease. When you’re so dependent on such a lucrative, easy flow of money, there’s not as much emphasis on diversifying. Although the Russian economy is a lot more than what some people joke about— it’s like a country that’s a gas station economy. People are seeing it now in terms of grain, what’s happening with fertilizer, and a lot of other products.
Colin Bruce Anthes
I think Michael Hudson said that actually, the Trump sanctions were a boom to Russia because they ended up pushing some of their other sectors into a more vibrant state of affairs.
Yeah, and the current round of sanctions, even more so. You get in capitalism; there’s this kind of law of uneven development of capitalist countries. Now that you have a coherent, meaning the Putin government, a coherent government, and the beginning of a reorganization and a growth of a Russian economy, still way too fossil fuel dependent, but still. All things considered, if a natural course of events had been allowed to unfold, that is Russia becoming a major player in Europe and, in theory, even joining the E.U. There was talk at one point in the early 2000s that Russia would even join NATO, which made no sense at all because what the hell was the point of NATO at that point?
For the Americans, their fundamental objective is, one, to contain Russia. Don’t allow Russia to become equal to Germany in Europe. Why wouldn’t it be, over time, an equal of Germany? It has everything Germany has. Eventually, it could be industrialized and sophisticated. And as I say again, the Putin government could have done this, but it was just such easy money.
Anyway, from the Western side, the way they restrained Germany prior to the First World War and didn’t like this growth of a major German capitalist power that might even contend with the colonies of England, France, and to some extent, the United States. They didn’t want Germany to become another, quote-unquote, superpower, which helped create the conditions for the First World War. The same thing is, more or less, the logic of the West towards Russia; not to allow Russia to become a major player consistent with its population size and so on.
Now, the second thing is the oligarchs in Russia are brutal, are ridiculously, fabulously wealthy, not to say— I don’t know how often I have to keep saying this. This is not to say the American oligarchs aren’t as bad or worse but set that aside. It’s important to set it aside because Americans, including much of the American Left, want to analyze everything as if everything is about the United States. Well, no, not everything is about the United States. Yes, of course, it’s a factor everywhere, but it’s not always and often isn’t the decisive factor. This internal development of the Russian oligarchy and state is more of a domestic process done in the context of the western attempts to restrain Russia’s growth. The state develops, it’s coherent, it punishes oligarchs that don’t submit to this new rules-based state under Putin’s leadership, and it rewards oligarchs that play ball. There seems to be this deal people talk about, that if they leave politics to Putin and his apparatchiks of the state, then you oligarchs can go off and make money. You’ll pay some tribute to the state. The state actually regains ownership in some significant fields, like arms production and fossil fuel production. There’s significant state ownership in these sectors.
Well, who’s at the top of that state? Putin and his apparatchiks. So they become a real power unto themselves and unnecessary power because the oligarch class needs them to hold this chaotic thing together. In the same way, the American oligarchs need the American state to hold that chaos together. But as this develops, and because the process of the accumulation of the ’90s was so corrupt— again, let’s not remember, forget the robber barons in the United States. The roots of American capitalism are in slavery, genocide, and corruption. I got to keep saying this because if you just critique and talk about Russia, then people are going to say, oh, you don’t think the Americans are so bad? No, the Americans are so bad. I’ll just say it once, and I’m not going to keep repeating it. There is no country on Earth that has committed war crimes at the scale of the United States. It’s in a league of its own. We can talk more about that later, but now I’m talking about Russia.
The fundamental issue here is that the large masses of Russian people are dispossessed of publicly owned resources. While life gets better compared to the absolute chaos of the 1990s, the thievery, the plunder, and the exploitation of the Russian people and their resources are intense, and that’s why you see these massive super yachts everywhere.
So this oligarch class that rules Russia and the state, which rules on their behalf and Putin, represent the real enemy of the Russian people in the same way the American oligarchs represent the main enemy of the American people or the Canadian billionaires. I’m not sure I can call them oligarchs. They’re not big enough to be oligarchs, but the Canadian billionaires are the enemy of the Canadian people. The fundamental thing when you analyze all this, which is— certainly, all the mainstream analysis almost without exception, won’t talk about, and much of the Left analysis doesn’t talk about is we’re talking about class societies. If you don’t start from there, your analysis is nonsense, and then you’re just going to fall into one piece of propagandistic scenario or another.
The fundamental enemy of the Russian people is the Russian oligarchy, not the Americans. The same thing goes; the enemy of the Americans isn’t the Chinese or the Russians. I’m not even talking people to people. I’m even talking about government. The Russian government is not a threat to the American people. It’s the American government and oligarchs that are the real enemy of the American people.
And the same thing goes for the Chinese government— you can talk about what China is or isn’t. I think we’re going to do another segment on Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Sure, the Chinese government may have contradictions with the United States, but they’re not the enemy of the American people. Even if the Chinese do all the horrible things to the Chinese people that they’re accused of, which I don’t think is anywhere near true as the West propaganda says it is, even if it was, it’s still not a threat to the American people.
Looking at Russia, the Russian people were and are getting and got fed up with being plundered by their oligarchs. So what’s the answer to that? Well, the answer in Russia is the same answer in the United States, and frankly, it is the same answer in China and lots of other places. It’s nationalism. Get a nationalist fervor going. The external enemy is the real enemy and divert the focus of the people on just how bad our ruling class is, and our government is. That’s true in all the countries, and it’s true in Russia.
Along with nationalism— and this is part of the history and culture of Russia, but it’s also true in the United States in a different way. Religion is inseparable from Russian nationalism: the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian nationalism, in other words, national identity, the religious component, and the nationalist component almost can’t be separated now. During the days of the Soviet Union, religion was the party. After decades of inculcation and propaganda, a large section of the people believed in the party. The party, for some time, did do some decent things for people. It did some horrible things, but it did some decent things. So, you know, the party became the religion combined with nationalism, especially in the lead-up to World War II; it never went away. So you get this very reactionary, toxic brew of how the oligarchs maintain ideological hegemony and control in Russia. Nationalism, virulent, right-wing, fanatical Russian Orthodox religion. I’ll say again, you’re seeing a very similar process in the United States with white Christian nationalism.
Let’s go back to the beginning question—the quote from Solzhenitsyn in the ’90s. The poisonous brew’s roots are in the chaos of the ’90s that here the West played a significant role in creating. Of course, the demise of the Soviet Union was mostly through internal processes. The West did everything, and the Americans did everything they could to encourage Yeltsin and the craziness of the ’90s. Then it becomes its own process as capitalism organizes itself in Russia. Now you get a state which is a very reactionary, right-wing, and very autocratic state that rules on behalf of the oligarchs and tries to keep opposition to the oligarchs in check. They do this all within the context of a world global capitalist system, which is very much part of— although, it’s a little less part of it since the invasion of Ukraine. I don’t think that was part of the Russian plan. Within the context of a global capitalist system, which is very chaotic, which is filled with competing interests, and led by an American power that wants to be the global hegemon as much as it can. Although, I don’t think it’s ever been as much the global hegemon as some people suggest. I mean, they want to be, but they haven’t been as successful as they would have liked to have been. Being the global hegemon means you got to be the hegemon in every region.
So once you have the fall of the Soviet Union, that’s a great victory. Now, you want to be the hegemon that includes Russia, but it’s too big to do it, and it’s too strong. So the West plays a significant role in the chaos of the ’90s, but we’re past that now.
I can quickly say something, and then we can talk more about it. Now, if the West and U.S. had any rationality at all, they would not continue this process of trying to contain Russia. I’ll just say, as a final sentence, then we can get more into it. When I judge these things, I have only two real criteria in the end because I care about myself, my kids, and my family. I care about climate change, the climate crisis, and I care about the threat of nuclear war. So I don’t care what we’re talking about. It has to be judged through that lens.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Yeah, that’s the context, pretty wonderfully. I think we’re in for a very uplifting conversation. I’m going to say— I’m going to bring in a couple of, well, I’m going to move ahead to another question, actually, which is the question of the responsibility for this crisis. I think you’ve set the context really wonderfully, but the question of responsibility for this crisis is one that I think a lot of people have major questions about and have thrown criticisms at you as well. So the question of who is responsible for this crisis, do you see it as primarily a U.S./NATO situation that they’ve provoked this war and that it’s a proxy war, that Ukraine is being made an American puppet? Or do you see this as something that really is a war of aggression that fits, as we’ve seen, major media outlets, Chuck Todd, of course, on MSNBC, saying this is a part of Russia reinstating its imperial ambitions from a previous era? Do you see it as one or the other?
Well, no. I don’t see it as an or. I see it as more or less all of the above. Global capitalism has various powers within it, centers of power. Obviously, the major nuclear-armed countries, the major economies, contend and compete. Even within Europe, even the relationship of Germany and the United States is contention and collaboration. You could see in that submarine deal to Australia. The French had sold their sub to Australia, and then the Americans got a deal, got the British, and they made a new deal with Australia, and they took this anglo-American submarine. The competition gets very fierce even within the so-called western alliance. The competition is extremely fierce inside the American elites. I mean, look at the chaos of American politics.
They talk about— there’s only one party, really. Some of the Left say this, republicans and democrats. It’s not true. There are various centers of power in the American elites, and they play it out through these parties, and the competition can get quite vicious. There’s a section of the American elites that are trying to and who’s always believed— by always, I mean from slave times— they’ve always believed that most of the American people are subhuman, whether it was the black African slaves or indigenous peoples, or immigrants from Europe, especially immigrants of color. There have been sections of the elites that have always believed that the American elites are real humans and everyone else is subhuman, and the government should reflect that reality. They’re social Darwinists. They really believe that the rich are more or less rich either for two reasons. One, because of merit and because of their genetics, they’re simply better than everyone else.
As Steve Bannon told a meeting at the Vatican, many of the rich are rich— and I’m quoting him directly because God chose you to be rich. He actually said this—this guy, Cardinal Burke, who is this American Cardinal that was trying to overthrow Pope Francis. Under Burke’s tutelage, there’s something called the American Family Foundation or something. They had a meeting at the Vatican about five, six years ago, and Steve Bannon comes in on a zoom call and speaks to them. In his speech, he says—most of the people in this meeting are millionaires or multi-millionaires or more. He says you’re rich because God chose you to be rich, and as a result, you have a responsibility. Your responsibility is to help wage war in defense of Judeo-Christian civilization against Islam and China. He says it’s going to be a bloody, vicious struggle.
So that’s one section of the American elites that Trump represents, the people around Trump, and significant sections of the elites, certainly, the military-industrial complex that loves tension with Taiwan. On the other hand, you got a section of the elites like BlackRock, the biggest asset management company, which is plowing money into Chinese investments. Apple is opening up new plants in China. So the global capitalism, there’s nowhere— there are fractures, there’s chaos.
So why do I say all of the above is responsible for the invasion of Ukraine? So you have competing interests. But there is a kind of, at least on this point of foreign policy, not all. In the American elites and in the European elites, there is a consistent, fairly unified policy of not allowing Russia to become a major European power. So that’s the underlying issue here. The containment of Russia, the eastward expansion of NATO, and a certain amount of arming that took place in Ukraine between 2014 and February 2022. However, not nearly as massive an amount of arming of Ukraine took place after the invasion. Certainly, instigations and talk about Ukraine becoming part of NATO someday.
They are a context for the invasion, but they were a context for years. Like, why now? Why does Russia invade now? This talk has been going on since 2014, if not before.
Colin Bruce Anthes
If I can bring up one challenge to that. One challenge to that, which is John Mershimer’s challenge, which is that, yes, it’s been escalating since 2014, and he blames the United States for that pretty heavily. He also says Biden upped the ante in 2021 and recommitted the United States or recommitted to NATO expansion into Ukraine.
Okay, so let’s say that’s true. More or less, it’s true. Number one, whatever Biden said, it doesn’t make any damn difference because it was clear they were never going to get NATO consensus, which they must have for a new member of NATO. Turkey was never going to agree to it. France and Germany were against it. Some of the Scandinavian countries were against it. It was so clear that whatever rhetoric was coming out of Kyiv or coming out of Washington, it was bullshit. It could not happen. It just wasn’t on the table to have unanimity amongst NATO for Ukraine. So Putin knew this. The eastward expansion had already happened. Honestly, according to people like Vijay Prashad, you can’t get more anti-NATO than Vijay. Boris Kagarlitsky, who’s Russian, and who’s very critical of Putin and also NATO. Both of them and many others say there was not serious opposition from Moscow over NATO expansion. There were statements, and there were some complaints, but they were not serious. More serious would have been taking some action against some of the countries that joined NATO, whether it’s on the trade front or others.
So number two, even if Ukraine joins NATO, then what? Is it any different than Estonia being in NATO? What’s the difference? Kagarlitsky pointed out that Estonia is actually closer in terms of missile range to Moscow than Ukraine is. So what exactly changes in the whole balance of power, even if Ukraine is in NATO? Why is Ukraine going to invade Russia now? It makes absolutely no sense. The only thing Ukraine in NATO might have changed is on the issue of Donbas or Crimea, maybe. But that’s one of the reasons they would never let Ukraine into NATO because they don’t take countries that are in the midst of such battles over borders because you can’t join NATO and the next day have an Article Five. They joined NATO, and the next day, American troops were supposed to land in Crimea. I mean, that’s insanity. It wasn’t going to happen.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Let me make sure I’m understanding your position clearly. First up, you were saying that a lot of the excuse-making around NATO expansion into Ukraine is just that, but that’s basically a facade and excuse for the invasion that’s been provided by the pro-Russian side of this argument. Do you also see the United States as having been poking the bear and setting up a proxy war using Ukraine at the same time?
Without a doubt, yeah. I think if the Americans have a coherent strategy, and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t, then yeah. Let’s put it this way; they sure weren’t disappointed. They sure could have done something to stop it. The United States could have and should have declared early on that whatever goes on in Ukraine, and if Ukraine joins E.U., whatever we do there, the United States will never support Ukraine joining NATO. Other countries have said such. It’s nonsense for the Americans to have taken a position. It’s not up to us to decide whether Ukraine wants to join NATO or not. No, it’s not up to you to decide whether they want to, but it is up to you if you’re going to vote for it or not. So you could have declared we’re never going to vote for it.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Now, that said, I put even more blame on the Ukrainian oligarchs, their government, and Zelenskyy because they could have said we’ll never join NATO. They should have said that before there were 150,000 Russian troops on the border. They could have said that anytime since Zelenskyy was elected. In all likelihood, he didn’t say it because of the far-right Ukrainian oligarchy, including, and I’m not just talking Nazis here, but the far-right Ukrainian oligarchy, the ultra-Ukrainian nationalists. This idea of using nationalism to impose the rule of oligarchs; this ain’t just some Russian thing. This is also a Ukrainian thing. So the Ukrainian oligarchs, who were every bit as corrupt as the Russian, used Ukrainian nationalism.
Why didn’t they declare no— even Zelenskyy admitted— this is a few months ago— he admitted Ukraine’s never getting into NATO. So why don’t we just take it off the table? For a few weeks, they talked about it, and then that went away. Who do I blame? I blame global capitalism. I blame the Russian autocracy and the Putin government, first and foremost, because just blaming global capitalism is kind of abstract. Global capitalism plays itself out through real states, real people, and real players. It’s not a metaphysical thing. And, yeah, of course, I blame NATO, but Putin didn’t have to take the bait.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Let’s say it was a provocation. Let’s give all the argument to that side; that this was a provocation by the Americans to draw Putin into an invasion of Ukraine. So let’s say that’s true. To the extent it’s true or not, there’s certainly a lot of truth to it, but whatever. Here’s the only thing that matters when you’re talking about who’s to blame. International law is very clear. There has to be an imminent threat to your country, or you do not have the right to a military attack on your opponent. It’s very clear. There was no imminent threat to Russia. Period. We can’t accuse the Americans of an illegal invasion into Iraq, which it was, but it was illegal because there was no imminent threat from Iraq to the United States. That’s what made it illegal. Nothing else, as far as I understand.
Colin Bruce Anthes
If I can offer a challenge, here again, I think there’s a lot of justification behind what you’re saying, but one challenge that somebody would bring up right now is that the United States has things like the Monroe Doctrine. We’ve seen how the Cuban Missile Crisis, of course, in the past had a lot of parallels to this situation. The United States, if these were threats on its borders, would not respond to the way you have just articulated the response to be. So is there not the immediate response of hypocrisy? We would not behave this way. We’re Canadians, but speaking from the position of the United States being the big superpower that we’re analyzing.
Well, if American hypocrisy is the bar for international behavior, woah, B.S. The Americans are a rogue state, and that’s the problem here. The Americans are a rogue state who only cares about international law when it serves their purposes and doesn’t give a damn about it. Where is the accountability for the leaders of the American invasion of Iraq? Why weren’t Bush and Cheney charged with war crimes? Not for the torture, which, of course, they could be there, too. The invasion itself was illegal. There’s an obligation under international law for Barack Obama to have charged his Justice Department to have charged them with war crimes. And in fact, by the Obama administration not charging Bush-Cheney with war crimes, they committed a war crime. That’s my understanding of international law. They become complicit in the war crime. So if that’s going to be the standard of behavior, then, of course, Russia, go at it. Fuck that. China, go at it. Hell, India, invade Pakistan. Hell, Germany, take something over. Hey, Canada, let’s seize Alaska. Either as progressives, whether anyone cares what we say or not, and to a large extent nobody does, we’re not here determining— my daughter, I was talking to somebody about the invasion of Ukraine, and she kept bugging me. She kept elbowing me, saying, I want to buy this thing on Amazon for school, a binder, and I’m talking about Ukraine with somebody. Finally, I said to her, I said, listen, you got to stop bugging me. I’m here talking about the fate of the world, and you want me to talk about your binder? And without missing a beat, she says, daddy, the fate of the world won’t be resolved in your mouth. Well, my god, is she right?
So what can we do as progressive people except stand up for principle? Of course, what the Russians are doing is no worse. In fact, it’s not as bad. What the Americans did in Iraq is worse. The way they destroyed Baghdad, the way they bombed, the way they slaughtered civilian people. The scale is far worse than what the Russians are doing in Ukraine. But does that mean we should excuse it? No, what we should do is what MSNBC does. We shouldn’t condemn Russia without always condemning the United States. At the same time, do not fuel American exceptionalism. Do not fuel American chauvinism and nationalism. Always put this in the context of class and a critique of global capitalism.
Yes, but to just attack NATO and the West is just as big an error as only attacking Putin. You’ve just become propaganda for one section of the elites or the other.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Fantastic. And on that note, we’ll pick it up in part two.
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Robert Pollin is an American economist. He is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and founding co-director of its Political Economy Research Institute. He has been described as a leftist economist and is a supporter of egalitarianism.