Recently reading Sergei Markov’s delusional, bizarro-world article really got my blood up. What is more is that on my social networks I’ve had to purge several people, none of them actually Russians, for their idiotic Team Russia antics. I tried to reason with them, but sparring with them intellectually is essentially like punching an infant in the face repeatedly with brass knuckles. You already know their arguments before they make them: “Putin saved Russia from disaster! But America does that too! Without United Russia, the West will take over Russia and carve it up!” What I riles me more than any of these pathetic canned arguments, the kind of thing that makes my blood boil when I read Markovesque ranting, is the pathetic patriotic defense these people always resort to. If you disagree, you’re anti-Russian. That’s a phrase that brings back memories, and that’s why I decided to do a little personal history to explain why I can’t stand this sort of politics.
Nostalgia is the big rage on the internet these days, so let me take you back. No, we’re not going back to the 90’s, so beloved by millennials. We’re going to roughly 2002 to 2005, give or take. It was not the beginning of my “political awakening” or my Russophilia; from the age of 17 I had already been writing pro-Russian rants similar to that of Markov or various opinion writers at RT. But with the run-up to the Iraq war, my activism crossed from the realm of the internet into the real world.
To be sure I was slow to act. When the government started talking about attacking Iraq, I couldn’t believe they’d actually do it. I figured they were frustrated about not getting Bin Laden, and they wanted to do some sabre-rattling as Clinton had done before. One thing I knew at the time was that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime was secular and non-sectarian, whereas Bin Laden was a radical Wahhabist, diametrically opposed to Baathism. Surely people in the Bush administration, the Pentagon, and the State Department had to be well aware of this fact. They couldn’t possibly believe that attacking, invading, and ultimately conquering Iraq would somehow advance their war against Al-Qaida. But as the propaganda continued to billow forth from every news outlet, I gradually came to the realization that irrational as it was, they were serious. This was going to happen, and this was bullshit.
Oh how interesting those times were! I come from a very conservative state, from a conservative family, in fact. AM talk radio was firmly in the hands of Clear Channel, and half the time our local conservative talk show hosts were worse than the nationally syndicated ones. You’d listen to them and hear callers claim that they did some kind of contract work in Iraq, and wouldn’t you know, in the course of their job they personally saw what appeared to be chemical weapons containers! Everyone was speculating on the horrible things Iraq was planning to do to us. What’s this? France refused to support us? COWARDS! Cheese-eating surrender monkeys! Americans are speaking out against war? Traitors! They’re supporting the terrorists!
I took part in three anti-war demonstrations between 2003-2005. My most memorable one was the second, which took place shortly after the invasion had begun. The local conservative talk-radio station sponsored and organized a pro-war counter-protest. Its turn out was pathetic, but I’ll never forget how they repeatedly called us all traitors and cowards. I remember getting in a shouting match against a guy with a bullhorn and coming close to shoving the thing down his throat. Ah, good times. Well not really.
That’s the way it was, in those long gone days. Support your president. Don’t question things. Support the troops. Be patriotic. Dissenters are anti-American, traitors, cowards, scum. Many people who were not necessarily conservative went along with those mantras, at least for a while. It was the Zeitgeist, fueled by fear and shock at September 11th. People were scared, Bin Laden was still at large, nobody had a clue what was going on in Afghanistan, and so they wanted the government to put things right by bombing somebody, anybody.
Do you remember the justifications? The bizarro-world logical gymnastics? Oh I remember them like it was yesterday. “We have to stop Saddam because he’s got nuclear weapons. Maybe not nuclear weapons, but he’s definitely got chemical weapons. He’ll try to acquire nuclear weapons or chemical weapons so we need to stop him before it’s too late. He may not use the WMDs himself, but he’ll certainly give them to terrorists who will! You know it doesn’t matter if he has WMDs because he’s killing his own people! Okay well we know he killed his own people in the past! Okay so we invaded and we haven’t found the WMDs yet, but it’s a big country! It doesn’t matter if we find them because this was really about freeing the people of Iraq, but I’m sure those weapons will turn up eventually. They probably already found the WMDs but the liberal media is covering it up. Saddam must have smuggled the weapons out of the country, but the liberal media won’t tell you about that. Who cares about WMDs or freedom? The point is our troops are there now and it’s better to fight them in the streets of Baghdad than Boston! Why do you hate America? Why do you hate the troops? They fought for your right to say that, so don’t say that!” Can you remember that, dear reader? I certainly do. Every single argument I’ve written there was actually used, with multiple variants. This…actually…happened.
Probably the reason why people don’t seem to remember that today is twofold. The first and most simplistic reason is that since 2009, we’ve had a Democratic president. The Fox News rulebook tells its fans that under a Democratic administration, it is perfectly normal, if not obligatory to scream about everything the president does or doesn’t do. Second, it seems to be widely believed that a major change swept the nation after Hurricane Katrina. The irrational fear of terrorism had started to fade and the patriotism party ended, leaving many people with a massive hangover. I left in 2006, but I kept in touch with events in the US from Europe, and it seemed to me that there were a lot of people holding their heads and asking, “What the fuck were we doing for the past couple years?” 2006 also saw the election of a Democratic majority in congress, though that was quickly spoiled when they refused to challenge the occupation of Iraq by cutting its funding. Then roughly a year later, the economic crisis loomed on the horizon. During all that fear-mongering and flag waving, Americans couldn’t see their future being pissed away behind their backs. The budget surplus from the Clinton-era was long gone. Debt was mounting. Military families were strained by deployments. It was becoming hard to keep making those mortgage payments. “Support the troops. Just support the troops. Don’t question. Don’t be anti-American. Be patriotic…patriotic…patria- FUCK IT! What the fuck is going on here!”
By now the reader must sense the comparison I’m getting at, but there are a few caveats worth mentioning. There are differences, but none of them favor Russia in this case. We anti-war protesters were called traitors, but nobody suggested we were literally paid to protest by the Iraqi or any other foreign government. People were able to vote in candidates who at least gave the impression that they would do something about the war. Most of us never faced any legal repercussions for our demonstrations, and two of the three I attended had very little police presence at all. But the far more important difference is that America began that plummet from a far higher height than Russia. Bush squandered international sympathy for the US and spent much of its political capital, but Russia didn’t have much of that to begin with when Putin recently started to try his hand at playing G.W. This means Russia could face even worse consequences as a result of this international posturing and bullying, all sanctions aside.
It’s important to realize that crisis is inherent in capitalism, and as such, Bush’s policies did not necessarily cause the crisis of 2008. They did, however, contribute to that crisis in a myriad of big and small ways, and what the administration certainly did ensure that the damage would be far greater than what it might have been under other circumstances. In terms of Russia, it is a commonly believed idea that Russia has somehow avoided the worst of the crisis, and that its government hasn’t opposed austerity on its people. This isn’t entirely true. Capital has been flowing out of Russia. The price of metro tickets has risen from 17rub when I arrived in 2006, to 40rub at present. Indeed, this is considered cheap compared to most public transport systems in developed nations, but you have to consider the salaries of many people who need the metro. Many of those people also come from outside the city and must also pay for trains or buses as well. All this adds up. It makes it hard to get angry at those people you see jumping the turn-styles. $51 billion went into the Olympics, and now more money is going to flow into the Crimea. Military operations are extremely expensive, and Russia has been putting more money into its defense budget(though this is actually highly necessary in Russia’s case). People who lived through those times I just described should be able to look at events in Russia and see them repeating, only this time the players are in a far worse position than the US was in 2002.
Hopefully this will explain to some readers as to the main reason I cannot stand this phony “patriotism” the government has been promoting lately. Actually they’ve been promoting it long before I even got here, the difference is that in those days most people didn’t buy into it. Only recently has there been a change, and what is most infuriating is that the biggest flag-wavers seem to be Western expats and people who used to be complaining about, if not protesting against the government only a few years ago. Just like the most vocal and “patriotic” Americans, their motives and love for their fellow countrymen is highly suspect and often self-contradictory. The American “patriot” sees at least about half of the population of America as being lazy, undeserving moochers who are ruining the country, if they haven’t already ruined it. The Russian patriot sees his or her own people as being too stupid to stand up for their collective interests with father Putin directing them. The American patriot was thrilled to watch the cruise missiles rain down on Baghdad. The Russian patriot dances with joy at Putin’s speeches against the West, while the infrastructure of his own town crumbles around him. They’d like to think themselves polar opposites of each other, and yet they are in truth the same. Equally stupid.
Jingoism led America into a serious crisis, but her economic power alone might be enough to preserve her first world status. Russia on the other hand is embarking on the same course, but without that safety net, and the consequences will be huge regardless of what the West does or doesn’t do. The Putin fan club credits him for pulling Russia out of the 90’s, but who will they blame if he brings the 90’s back? Rhetorical question. They’ll blame the US State Department of course.