An Open Letter to Joe Scarborough

Dear Morning Joe,

I confess that, although I find you a pompous buffoon and your co-anchor Mika a fawning airhead, I watch your MSNBC show nearly every morning. You are marginally less annoying than CNN’s pretentious Chris Cuomo or the Trump channel morons. Your program expresses the Mike Barnacle-Richard Haas-Hillary Clinton consensus on responsible traditional U.S. foreign policy, just as CNN does. That consensus (espoused by the Democratic Party establishment, a section of the Republican leadership, many in the deep state and most in the mainstream media), conveys a degree of Russophobia rational people find disturbing.

On Monday you startled me on your show with your shocking declaration that Putin was applying the old Soviet policy of trying to divide NATO.

How stupid, I thought. And then you tweeted this:

So let’s be clear about this year’s leading headline:

Caps? You’re learning from Trump.

Joe: I think you know that the NATO you are talking about was formed in 1949, four years after the German defeat (at the hands basically, as you know, of the Red Army), as a U.S.-led anti-Soviet military alliance. It was part of the Truman Doctrine, which legitimated all efforts to contain the communist “enemy” whether by military force (the suppression of the Greek communist partisans who had heroically resisted the fascists), by rigged elections (in France and Italy in 1946-48), by espionage, political assassinations, disinformation campaigns and military alliances.

I assume you know this history anyway. It might have been taught at Pensacola Catholic High School in the late seventies, or at the University of Alabama in the early 1980s, or you might have learned it during your law school years in Florida or during your brief tenure in Congress.

Anyway (as you know), when NATO expanded in 1956 to include the U.S.-occupied West Germany, Moscow responded—you might say, somewhat belatedly—by creating the Warsaw Pact. There were then 15 members of NATO (Spain joined in 1982). But the Warsaw Pact included only 8 nations at its height. Its forces were deployed precisely once during its existence, in Czechoslovakia in 1968 to suppress the Prague Spring movement. Albania had already been expelled from the pact, and Romania in this instance refused to participate. (Indeed Bucharest denounced the Soviet-led intervention in Czechoslovakia and sought closer relations with both the U.S. and China in its aftermath.)

The Soviets were less interested in “dividing” NATO than in preserving control over their own cordon sanitaire in “eastern” Europe—their control over the sphere they had conquered while destroying the Wehrmacht in 1944-45. (Moscow was no doubt pleased when Charles De Gaulle pulled France out of NATO’s military structure in 1966, but that was clearly the French president’s decision based on French nationalism.) The Soviets of course hoped for allies win in contested elections and to be appointed to high office in western Europe (although as you know, Joe, Truman forbade allies from allowing communists into their cabinets). Of course the Soviets were interested in dividing NATO—not to invade the NATO countries, but rather to defend themselves. This remains Russia’s objective.

As the Berlin Wall fell in 1988 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to the expansion of NATO to include East Germany, as it was reunited with the West; in return he demanded a commitment from George H. W. Bush that the alliance would not advance “one inch” towards the east. You know very well that James Baker averred this publicly in Moscow.

And as you know, Joe, the U.S. has broken this promise since 1999 when Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary (the core of the Warsaw Pact dissolved in 1991 along with the Soviet Union) joined NATO. And then in 2004 George W. Bush (who had looked into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul, and welcomed his help after 9/11) further broke it when he expanded the alliance to include Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. And then in 2009 with Albania and Croatia, and Montenegro last year (so Trump could join in on the process). Look at a map and see how NATO’s expanded and ask what would you think if you were watching from Moscow.

The anti-Russian NATO military alliance numbering 16 nations in 1991 now numbers 28, including four that border Russia. It is not your daddy’s NATO. It’s foolish of you talk about Moscow now using “Soviet strategy.” What do you mean by that? Do you know yourself? Make a specific comparison; I challenge you.

Joe, if you do not see why the Russian state (and people) would view this expanding alliance with anxiety you really are ignorant of history. The Russians are at once aware that they, not the NATO countries, have more often been the victims of aggression in the past, and they have no intentions of invading Europe. The Warsaw Pact has been gone 26 years. And Russians know better perhaps than people in this country how NATO has been used since the USSR collapsed. And how U.S. governments and mass media whip up fears among the people of this country that often become pretexts for aggression.

How has NATO ever been deployed? Never during the Cold War; it was not necessary. It was first used in Bosnia in 1994-5, then in Serbia 1999, then Afghanistan, 2001-present, then Libya in that disgraceful war crime in 2011. As for Russia wanting to divide NATO—well of course! RT reports positively on the rise of Eurosceptics and nationalists in NATO member states; the fact is, there is a lot of anti-NATO sentiment in Europe, especially in some eastern European countries. The anti-Russian sanctions the EU has adopted under U.S. pressure (exercised largely through the Brexiting UK) following the Kiev events and Russia’s re-annexation of Crimea, are not popular among European farmers and manufacturers. There are internal tensions in NATO that may weaken it. The Russians can try to exploit and exacerbate the contradictions but they can’t create them.

You conflate Russia with the USSR as though Putin’s ideology of oligarchal, state-steered capitalism, pro forma multi-party democracy with limited free press, social conservatism and alliance with the Russian Orthodox establishment, is the same as that of Leonid Brezhnev, who ostensibly upheld a vision of socialism embracing the globe under Moscow’s leadership. But Putin doesn’t want to change European social and political systems. Rather, he wants to convince the Europeans that Russia is not a threat requiring them to meet Trump’s urgent demand that they cough up 2% of their GDPs for imagined military purposes (or is it 4% now?) every year or provoke U.S. complaints about non-payment of dues owed. It’s not a hard case to make. Recent polls show Germans see Trump as the greater threat to Germany than Russia and they trust Putin more than Trump.

Maybe they get something you miss, Joe. You who pose as such an authority on Cold War history. You whose geopolitical insight inclined you, while some of us were inveighing against the upcoming horror of the Iraq invasion, to enthusiastically support the cause. With all your wonted cocky bluster.

Maybe the German youth don’t understand as you do, observing things from New York City, that they need NATO to defend them from somebody worse than the country hitting them with a trade war while demanding they stop a very rational natural gas pipeline with Russia.

You notice how talking heads on your show often misspeak and refer to “the Russians” as “the Soviets.” What that should tell you is that they still subconsciously connect the two? They can’t get over not having a big enemy.

The primitive anti-communism of my youth (dare I say our youth?—because I was 19 when Born to Run was released; you were 12) has been superseded by this Trump-era opportunistic revival of Cold War mentality. You are doing your best to abet it, blathering on, not knowing what the hell you’re talking about, tossing the ball to Mark Barnacle or Richard Haas from time to time who will surely agree that NATO is the rock of U.S. responsible policy in the world, the pillar of the Atlantic Alliance and post-war world order, the guarantor of global security—whatever that means in this world that almost seems ongoingly secure by Washington’s design—and that anything undermining it is treasonous.

Give it up, Joe. Drop the BS about the Soviets slaughtering their millions and oppressing the people of East Europe while the U.S. just did good in Europe, especially through NATO. Look at the points relevant now.

From June 1941 the Soviets fought a war against Nazi invaders, which the U.S. joined after Pearl Harbor six months later. In 1945 both partners divided post-war Europe. The U.S. through its Marshall Plan consolidated most of Europe under its tutelage as capitalist “liberal democracies” while the Soviets promoted “people’s democracies” based on premises of universal education, health case, housing, and employment that deeply influenced the emergence of the west European “welfare state” so derided by U.S. politicians (as they engage upstarts like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). But the conflict was between ideological and political systems, precisely articulated. Now the conflict is not between ideologies; Putin is not campaigning against democracy in favor of Erdogans everywhere. Or Marie Le Pens everywhere (although he did give her the time of day and a photo op with him in Moscow last year during her campaign). The Russians would be happy with the most democratic leader ever, were he or she to announce: “We no longer see any reason or advantage to continue membership in an expensive ‘defensive’ military alliance when we feel no threat. We think NATO should have dissolved along with the Warsaw Pact.”

Joe, if you somehow imagine that the Russian leadership imagines a future lunge into the heartland of Europe—the reversal of the Napoleonic and Nazi invasions—engaging in the process forces ten times its own strength, you are kidding yourself. The Soviets once sought to undermine NATO by supporting often mass-based Communist parties in Europe that among other things denounced NATO as an imperialist alliance and threat to peace. You might say that by contributing to the funding of l’Humanité Moscow sought to “split” NATO. Just like Voice of America sought to exacerbate differences among East European countries. And yes there is a moral equivalence, for all with eyes to see.

Don’t you see? The world was deeply divided then; there were two superpowers, imposing curbs on one another. With the fall of the USSR and the historical retreat from the social experiment in China and elsewhere, Prometheus is unrestrained. Thus the reckless slough of U.S. and U.S/./NATO wars since 9/11. some of which the Russians (and world in general) consider criminal.

You rail against “moral equivalency.” You berated Rand Paul for citing statistics on electoral interference showing that the U.S. has done it much more often historically than the USSR or Russia. It’s not the same, you argue. They are them. We are we. We are good.

Maybe the very idea that someone would so slur this sacred country as to suggest an empirical comparison of its inflicted-war deaths with those of Russia since 2001 strikes you as an inherently objectionable. But what if I were to add up the tolls of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, and their spin-offs, and the campaigns in Syria (notably the savage bombing of Raqqa by the U.S.), Libya and Yemen, and compare them to the Russian toll (in Syria) showing that the U.S. has produced far greater pain?

I consider the U.S. war on Iraq criminal. It was unprovoked, based on lies, horrifically destructive; a massive Crime Against Peace in Nuremberg language that destroyed the modern, fairly affluent and secular Iraqi state subjecting it to endless misery and produced hellish disorder in Syria. We are talking not tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands of deaths. Nothing “the Russians” have done this century compares, even if you include Chechnya.

You, Joe are a pawn for the power structure banking on Russophobia to unite the people in the post-Trump age. You want to get him so badly on this. His TREASON. His possible willingness to even ask questions about that holy-of-holies, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (600 million people, $18 trillion GDP, $900 billion in military spending)
is troubling isn’t it?

Russia has only 144 million people, a $ 1.5 trillion GDP, and spends just $ 70 billion on military.

Yet you say: ‘AMERICAN PRESIDENT PAWN FOR PUTIN; PROMOTES SOVIET STRATEGY ON NATO’ … like Trump is selling out the store.

How clueless you are, out of touch with the Republicans who are over the Cold War and don’t swallow Russophobia with the ease might suppose, and the youth who care less who told them that Bernie lost because the corrupt DNC arranged it than the fact that the system is in fact so rotten that it denied Bernie a change.

Would you have rather we had never learned how Wasserman-Schultz sabotaged the election? So that everybody’s “faith” in the system (that “the Russians” want to so ignobly suck out of us) might be maintained throughout the electoral farce? I would rather see things as they really are.

To whoever released those emails, I am grateful. But I don’t want to take up any further time. Just please, Joe, write a column comparing “Soviet strategy on NATO, 1949-1991” with “Russian strategy on NATO, 1991-2018.” I’d be so happy so see your keen mind applied to concrete analysis of an historical issue.


Gary Leupp

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: