I think whataboutism has been thoroughly dissected plenty of times on this blog. That being the case, many people from a left-wing perspective often become very uncomfortable any time they happen to find themselves nominally taking a position similar to that of the United States government, even if the motives are completely different. One wonders what they would have said after 7 December 1941, but that’s beside the point.
For those who cringe at the sound of US leaders criticizing other countries for doing many of the things that the US does indeed do (discounting the degree and other key details), I’d like to highlight an aspect of whataboutism that is often ignored.
As a good friend of mine formulated about two years ago, the basic gist of Russian whataboutism is “Yes, we do bad things, but so do you, so don’t judge us. Let’s both just run our rackets and not get in each other’s way.” The basis of this is the backward, immoral, 19th century geopolitical theory that has come to dominate the Kremlin’s thinking. The problem with most criticism of that thinking is that it’s one-sided and ignores some rather dark implications.
Suppose for the moment that the US and Europe give the Kremlin the benefit of the doubt and adopt this “realist” policy Russia keeps pushing for, meaning they essentially recognize Russia’s right to a sphere of influence which roughly corresponds to the former Soviet Union or possibly the Russian Empire. Now if the Russians get their sphere of influence, then the US must have its own as well. In fact, some pro-Kremlin figures basically imply this in public and in any case, they don’t believe in the agency of smaller nations so they’ve already convinced themselves that many nations are currently in the US orbit. If the US adopts the Russian POV, then we must assume that Russia’s state propaganda organs will stop criticizing US policies, no matter how egregious, so long as they take place outside of Russia’s sphere of influence or if inside, it takes place with their consent.
I think the reader is astute enough to understand why this is a recipe for a terrible world. This is precisely the reason why a leftist must oppose Russia’s imperialism. It doesn’t mean not opposing American imperialism, because the Kremlin doesn’t really oppose that. They just want to go back to a world where great powers carve up the world at the expense of the majority of the population. If you think the US government does dirty things now, you should see what it did during the Cold War- that’s the era Putin’s nutcase “geopolitical experts” would like us to return to.
Do not think that there aren’t plenty of scumbags in the West who would take Moscow’s offer. Do I even need to bring up Trump? If they West let’s Putin get away with his crimes without consequences, Western leaders will undoubtedly start engaging in more atrocities of their own. That’s what widespread cynicism breeds.
So remember, leftists, opposing Russian imperialism doesn’t mean you aren’t opposing the Western variety. On the contrary, to oppose Russian imperialism is to oppose Western imperialism, especially considering that Putin’s Russia is nothing more than the by-product of Western neo-liberal policies.