The idea that the United States must exercise "global leadership" is rationalized by our interventionists as a necessary prerequisite for maintaining some type of "world order." Who will guard the sea lanes? Who will deter "aggression"? Who will defend the "rules" against those "rogue states" just waiting for an opportunity to wreak havoc, if not the United States of America?
No "mainstream" politician dares challenge this mythology, and those academics and popular writers who do so risk being marginalized. Challenging the motives of our wise rulers isn’t good for your career: that is, not if you want to have any influence in Washington. And while it’s okay to question whether this episode of meddling or that murderous invasion is really in our interest, the benevolence and historical legitimacy of the American empire is not to be questioned. Because, after all, the theoreticians of imperialism say, without the stability enforced by America’s military supremacy "liberalism" could not exist.
This is how the world is seen inside the Washington Beltway, where the monuments of Empire loom large and more than half the population owes its livelihood to the Imperium. Outside that bubble of hubris and skyrocketing real estate values, however, the world looks to be quite a different place – as does America’s role in it.
To an Iraqi citizen, who has watched his nation be torn to pieces by the American eagle, stability is the last thing he associates with the Americans. To a Libyan who had hopes his country might evolve into something more than Gaddafi’s playground, "order" fled the moment the Americans intervened. To a resident of eastern Ukraine who voted in an internationally-recognized election for Victor Yanukovych – and who awoke one morning to discover his government had been overthrown by force – America is anything but the champion of liberal democracy.
But of course none of these peoples – Iraqis, Libyans, Ukrainians – count for much in the Imperial City. Their wishes, hopes, dreams, and opinions are irrelevant to the making of American foreign policy: they are outside the pale, forever exiled to that netherworld separating the West from the rest. And there is no race or nation farther outside that pale than the Russians, who lost the cold war and therefore – in Washington’s view – have ceded any power or influence they once had over the calculations of US policymakers.
Russia and the Russians are routinely demonized in Washington: they are the one people it is perfectly okay to hate – unless, that is, you are a member of "Pussy Riot," or a has-been chess champion who’s taken up Russophobia as a second career. That is, unless you’re a traitor to your own country and allow yourself to be used as an instrument in Washington’s hands.
Naturally the number one hate object is Vladimir Putin, who is regularly characterized as either the reincarnation of Stalin, the second coming of Hitler, or, preferably, both. That’s because he doesn’t recognize the implications of Russia’s defeat in the cold war and still seems to think his opinions amount to something in the brave new unipolar world Washington is building.
No wonder the response to his recent speech at the "Valdai International Discussion Club" – an annual event in Russia – has been nothing short of hysterical. Yet even then, I was amazed to get this tweet from Jackson Diehl, the editorial chieftain of the Washington Post, announcing their editorial:
"We pore over his performance in Valdai, a poisonous mix of lies, conspiracy theories and anti-US vitriol."
What does the editorial board of the Washington Post find so appalling? They are shocked – shocked! – that Mr. Putin wants Washington to "stay out of our affairs and to stop pretending they rule the world." How dare he! Who does he think he is, anyway – a world leader of consequence, whose country is armed with nuclear weapons?
It wasn’t just the reliably neoconnish WaPo. As James Carden noted in The National Interest, "The New York Times alerted readers ‘Putin Lashes Out at U.S. for Backing ‘Neo-Fascists’ and ‘Islamic Radicals’; the Financial Times proclaimed "Putin Unleashes Fury at US ‘follies’; and Fox News reported that ‘Putin Blasts US in Speech, Blaming West for Conflict in Ukraine.’" The Washington Post only added a few more decibels to the cold war chorus, noting approvingly that, in a recent speech, President Obama likened the Russians to a bad case of Ebola.
The WaPo’s sense of nostalgia is evoked when Putin mentions (twice) Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on a desk in the UN – it’s the 1960s all over again! Except it isn’t: and that, from Putin’s point of view – and much of the world’s – is precisely the problem.
Because back then the US had a real adversary in the Soviet Union, and Washington was properly constrained. No more: ever since the fall of the Soviet empire, the Americans have been on a rampage. Instead of ensuring stability – and defending national sovereignty against aggressors – they have become the worst aggressors on the planet, agents of instability who seek to overthrow the established order and, as George W. Bush proclaimed in his crazed second inaugural address, "light a fire in the mind" on a global scale.
In his Valdai speech, Putin points to the brokenness of the institutions and understandings that used to balance out the power relationships in the international arena, regulating them so that upheaval and conflict were minimized. Without this framework, says Putin, all that’s left is "the rule of brute force." Western whiners will bristle at such hypocrisy: this is said by the invader of Crimea! Yet Crimea has been Russian since Catherine the Great: the Russians will respond to our arguments that this is "aggression" the moment we give back the American southwest to Mexico. And anyone capable of the least amount of objectivity will have to concede they have a point.
With the end of the cold war, Putin continues,
"What we needed to do was to carry out a rational reconstruction and adapt it to the new realities in the system of international relations.
"But the United States, having declared itself the winner of the Cold War, saw no need for this. Instead of establishing a new balance of power, essential for maintaining order and stability, they took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance."
NATO expansion to the very gates of Moscow, Clinton’s Balkan wars, and a regime-change operation that overthrew the democratically elected government of Ukraine and replaced it with "pro-Western" elements with dubious democratic credentials. Even more shameless was the political and diplomatic support given by Washington to crazed Islamic radicals, such as the Chechen "freedom fighters," i.e. the ideological blood brothers of the Tsarnaev brothers.
"The Cold War ended," avers the Russian leader who picked up the pieces,
"But it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards. This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests. If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.
"Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies."
The editorialists and the neocon pundits are up in arms over the Valdai speech precisely because Putin is absolutely right about what he calls the "legal nihilism" of the US and its satellites. And of course they weren’t exactly pleased to hear the Russian leader’s denunciation of America’s "total control of the global mass media" which "has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white."
Our Western "democrats" are bound to choke at this point, yelping about the alleged near-total control of the Russian media by Putin & Co. Yet this only underscores Putin’s point: the source of their anger is that anyone, anywhere on earth, deviates from the party line as dictated by Washington and its captive media, which speak with one voice when it comes to foreign affairs.
If we look at the international competition between nations in terms of ecology, it’s clear what is the problem. Like a population of rats that has suddenly been allowed to reproduce beyond its natural boundaries due to a lack of predators – say, bears – to balance them out, the Americans have gone swarming across the globe, undermining the natural ecological balance and taking out everything and everyone in their path. This is where our "victory" in the cold war has led us – into a position very much like that of the old Soviet Union before Stalin reduced Soviet ideology to a strictly defensive posture of "socialism in one country." We have switched roles with the Russians, who are now the status quo power, in opposition to our own role as a revisionist revolutionary power seeking to destroy what little stability the world has left.
Ah, irony – thy name is history.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.