History Fail

So today’s load of shit is an article  by Martin Sieff, which starts off rather well but then devolves into a pile of crap as the author’s Wikipedia scholarship reveals itself.  This kind of shit will impress the rubes who’ve never put in the time to study Russian or Soviet history, but it doesn’t fly here.

As I previously wrote, the article begins more or less alright, pointing out how Obama condemned Russia on the grounds of violating international law and acting “unilaterally” while dishonestly whitewashing America’s record of doing the same thing, often more egregiously. I have two of my own comments I can make about this.  When the author implies a demand for Obama to explain why it should be okay for the US to violate international law, for example, I must ask as to what sort of answer he is looking for.  The truth is that the US and its allies can violate international law because international law is essentially bullshit. I invoke St. Augustine here, who said that an unjust law is no law at all. For decades now we have seen the American government or its apologetic pundits invoke international law when it suited their ends, and when it did not the same people claimed that international law was “irrelevant.” Just to wrap this up, America and its allies violate international law because they can, and because this is the real reason Obama can’t openly state this.  Therefore his two choices are some wacky, bizarro-world logic to explain how America actually does carefully observe international law, or simply skirt the issue altogether. What I gather from this article is that he decided to go the latter route.

The other thing I take issue with is this buzzword “unilateral.”  The typical narrative goes like this: “Okay Bush was bad because he did things unilaterally. But Obama doesn’t do things that way, instead choosing to work with other nations to carry out his aggressive wars. Ergo Obama is totally different and that’s why we shouldn’t be out in the streets protesting like we did under Bush!”  Yeah I realize it might be a bit of a strawman but I’m just trying to give the word some context.  The problem I see with this is that first of all, Bush didn’t act unilaterally in Iraq. The US went in with its staunch ally the UK, plus Australia, Spain, Poland, and a host of other allies.  American liberals, who aren’t necessarily anti-war, could do little to back up their claims of “unilateral” action other than making fun of some of the countries in Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing.”  LOL! Poland!  Afghanistan’s NATO mission is also clearly not unilateral, as it includes or included nations like Canada, Germany, and France, all three being nations which opposed the Iraq invasion. The second, and far more important point I should make here, however, is that not being unilateral doesn’t justify military aggression. Would the Iraq invasion have been morally justified had Germany and France signed on?  Of course not.  There is nothing inherently moral or just about powerful nations with high-tech military forces ganging up on third world countries.

Getting back to the rest of the article, it begins to decline from there.  The author beings rambling about Russia’s security interests, foolishly conflating modern day Russia with both the Soviet Union and the old Russian Empire.  The idea is that historically they both had spheres of interests which had to be respected and thus we still have to respect modern Russia’s sphere of interest.  Here are a few choice quotes from the article.

No doubt about it, President Putin’s new moves are truly dangerous in terms of world peace. But one must at least recognize two points, unpalatable though they may be: First, his moves are consistent with Russia’s historical fears and legitimate security concerns.

I’m not really sure how dangerous his moves actually are from a military standpoint. I’m more worried about the Russian government or Russian-based organizations further sabotaging and ruining the movement of anti-Maidan Ukrainians. After all, those new elections in Kyiv are set for May, and the opposition just lost over a million votes. But my bone of contention is with the idea of Russia’s “legitimate” security concerns.

The author goes on to use what seems to be a common bullshit technique in punditry.  Cite some historical examples and then claim that the situation is the same today. In this case, he dives deep into Soviet and Russian Imperial history and then implies that Russia has the same security concerns today, and he claims they are legitimate.  I contend that not only are those security concerns unrealistic and illegitimate, but that there is ample evidence that Russia would actually benefit from having NATO missions around its borders.  I say unrealistic because Russia can’t oppose NATO militarily, and I say that Russia benefits from NATO missions because it shifts the burden of controlling or occupying failed states onto the more powerful NATO countries. Afghanistan is a perfect example of this. Without NATO, Russia would see an even larger influx of heroin, as well as arms and jihadist fighters.  Left to their own devices, Afghanistan would again be a perfect training ground for jihadis the world over, and a good deal of them would be honing their skills until they are ready to go to places like Dagestan or Chechnya.  Salafist terrorist organizations have been discovered even in places like Tatarstan, not typically known for such politics.  Putin is fully aware that should NATO leave Afghanistan, Russia could never hope to replace them, and Russia’s security would suffer as a result.  So as much as the Russian government whines about NATO surrounding Russia, the higher ups must be at least partially aware that the alternative would be much worse.

Now brace yourself, because our author is about to go full potato.

These have been recognized as legitimate by the other great powers ever since the days of the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Aw shit! Congress of Vienna in 1815! That’s old!  See this is the kind of argument which sounds super-convincing to people who don’t know dick about history.  Several of the “great powers” he mentions here no longer exist, while numerous other signatories are no longer independent countries. If the Congress can be invoked to justify Russia’s alleged security concerns today, why not also argue for an independent Prussia, which by the way, would involve annexation of the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation?  Why not put Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and parts of northern Italy under Austrian rule?  Let’s partition Poland once again! Finland goes to Russia.  Let me make this absolutely clear, I’m not saying you can’t make legitimate arguments about Russia’s security interests, but this is a shitty way to go about it. When I read this I feel like a conman is trying to put one over on me.

In a similar vein, it’s interesting to note that people who make these kinds of historical arguments seem to limit them to Russia.  The concerns of the post-Napoleonic Wars Russian Empire are supposed to legitimize its actions, but they don’t go on to suggest that Britain would be justified in recapturing India, or that Japan should take all of Korea. Ditto with Turkey. Oh what? Turkey can’t seize Greece just because it’s the Turkish Republic and not the Ottoman Empire? Well Russia isn’t the Russian Empire. More importantly, we no longer live in a world of “Great Powers” in the 19th century sense.  This is why it feels like the author is pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining; I hate when people will invoke not-so-popular historical events while stripping away the context of the times and acting like the same rule applies today.

But we shouldn’t glibly make mincemeat out of history. Considering that Russia lost at least 26 million troops and civilians from hostile invasion from the west at the hands of Nazi Germany and its allies in World War II, Russian fears are certainly comprehensible. Russia wants to maintain its own zone of security. That should be respected by the United States.

Making mincemeat out of history? Remove the mote from thine eye, hypocrite! For one thing, “Russia” did not lose 26 million troops; the Soviet Union lost 26-27 million people(more civilians than military). A minor semantic difference? No, not at all. Judging from the author’s bio, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would advocate a return to the USSR. Second, the Soviet Union was an ideological enemy of a major political current in Central Europe back in those days, i.e. fascism.  The revolutionary regime in what was the Russian Empire immediately found itself beset upon from almost every quarter from 1917 till about 1923. Some smaller-scale military operations associated with the civil war lasted as late as 1926, which incidentally was the same year that a military coup occurred in Poland, which potentially dangerous consequences for the struggling Soviet Union.  More important than any of this was the fact that after 1933, the USSR had to face the fact that Germany was ruled by a man who pledged to eradicate “Bolshevism” and whose book from 1924 clearly stated that the Germans would find living space in Russia and the Ukraine. In other words, the USSR had real, clear threats. It wasn’t like Germany was just building some bases in nearby nations and investing money into the Soviet economy the way Western nations do today. In fact, the USSR had friendly relations with the Weimar government and under the Treaty of Rapallo(of 1922, suck on that, Martin) the Red Army worked with the German Reichswehr.  The key factor was that this treaty renounced all territorial claims on the fledgling Soviet republics.  Hitler on the other hand, pretty much went ahead and claimed all of European Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine, the Baltics, etc. in his own book published in 1925-26.

In case my point isn’t entirely clear, please tell me which major military power has been claiming any territory of the Russian Federation since 1991? Anyone who believes that NATO is actively planning to invade Russia is simply delusional. What is far more likely, and frightening to me at least, is that one day Russia will begin to descend into more corruption and chaos until finally the country as a whole is no longer manageable from the center. At that point, NATO and other countries will have no choice but to step in and try to prop up some kind of central government, which could still be Putin’s regime for all we know.  Without engaging in too much speculation about the future, one thing is for sure, nobody is threatening Russia the way the USSR was threatened by Nazi Germany.

Putin’s moves today cannot be properly understood without realizing Bill Clinton’s role in Russian feelings of encirclement.

It was the United States’s aggressive NATO expansion, undertaken against earlier commitments, that has created Russia’s sense of a need for a determined pushback against the United States’ constantly stepping into Russian’s sphere of influence.

These are all fair points, which have often been made by people far more talented and honest than Sieff has been in this article.  The problem is this “pushback” he speaks of is an impotent, opportunistic move which is actually tacitly handing NATO half of Ukraine, and in return Russia doesn’t gain anything substantial.  NATO now has a far better opportunity to expand eastward.  Russia holding their base at Sevastopol does not improve Russia’s security situation either.  In the event of war, the entire part of the Black Sea fleet based there could easily be sent to the bottom. Turkey could easily embarrass Russia simply by closing the Dardanelles to Russian warships. What are they going to do in return? Attack a NATO country? Any other Russian troops on the peninsula would be trapped, forced to evacuate across the Kerch peninsula under constant NATO observation and possibly bombardment from the air.  This is why the base at Novorossisk is probably a better bet for Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Martin’s not done yet though. He hits us with one more example of Wikipedia scholarship.

Like it or not, Russia certainly has more justification for intervention in Crimea — which was Russian in 1783 (before the time when the United States Constitution was created) — and in Ukraine than the United States has for “its” cases.

Here he’s trying to pull the old “America isn’t old” argument, but it falls flat because in this case the United States existed. Hence he brings up the issue of the US Constitution, ratified just five years later in 1787, as though this somehow means something.  I don’t understand the point of these number games.  The birth of the Russian Empire is typically dated to 1721, making it only 55 years older than the United States when it declared independence.  Italy became a country in 1861, Germany ten years later. Poland reappears in 1918, Pakistan in 1947, and very recently a certain country called “the Russian Federation” appeared.  I honestly don’t know why authors will pretend like the modern Russian Federation should have exclusive claim to territories of previous states.  Again is he advocating that Poland take Galicia in Western Ukraine? Or maybe he supports a new partition of Poland, in which case Galicia could go back to Austria?  Hell why not restore the Hapsburg monarchy while we’re at it? That would certainly follow the spirit of the Congress of Vienna, would it not?

Lastly I cannot ignore the other dishonest tactic he uses here, where he claims that “the Crimea was Russian” in 1783.  Actually it wasn’t “Russian,” it was Tatar.  He forgot to mention that the Russian Empire violated a treaty when it intervened and annexed the last remaining lands of the Crimean Khanate, i.e. the peninsula itself, and that the Russian empire colonized this land and drove out much of Tatar population from there on out.  This is what I mean when I say this guy seems to like throwing out the names of treaties, historical events, or various years in an attempt to look smart in the eyes of those who don’t know better. To those who do, it’s almost insulting.

Looking back I think one of the laziest techniques of a writer on such topics is to gather a few historical examples and then make your case by claiming that it reaches so far back into the past. During the 90’s Balkan wars, many writers taking up different sides used similar arguments.  The situation is so complicated because it’s about centuries-old rivalries…In 1389 the Ottomans defeated the Serbs and Kosovo field… The truth is that the real answers regarding the causes of the wars and the atrocities they entailed could really be found in the late 80’s, and perhaps not much further back than the Second World War, during which the territory known as Yugoslavia suffered from a similarly brutal war within the larger conflict.  This sorry trope reminds me of the painfully idiotic one about how “America is like Rome!”  It’s fucking lazy, and if you’re going to invoke history fucking do it right. Also don’t pretend that nations which exist today have a permanent claim on any territory their previous incarnations might have had.  I don’t see him advocating for the UK to annex Normandy or for the United States to retake the Philippines.

Oh speaking of the Philippines, turns out they got recognition as an independent state in 1946, just 45 years before the appearance of the Russian Federation.  Incidentally, 1945 was when the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, established originally in 1921, was incorporated into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Less than ten years later, it would be given over to the Ukrainian SSR in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Pereyaslav(fuck your Congress of Vienna, Mr. Schieff!), which was supposed to be a sign of Muscovite-Ukrainian friendship.  So much for that.

Better times.

Better times.



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