Reflections on Ukraine and the Broke-Brain “Left”

Photograph Source: – CC BY 4.0

The moral hypocrisy on display in the West’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is stunning. The West is quite naturally shocked and appalled about the misery criminally inflicted on Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s incursion but has no remotely comparable concern for the misery criminally inflicted on: the people of Gaza by the United States’(US) imperial client Israel; the people of Yemen by the US-imperial client Saudi Arabia; the people of Central America and the Caribbean by the US Empire and its client regimes there; the Afghans by US-imperial invasion and sanctions; the North Africans crushed and traumatized by the US-led NATO attack on Libya; and …the list of US and US-allied oppressions around the world goes on and on. The white Ukrainians are “worthy victims” in the eyes of Western media and political culture. The nonwhite Palestinians, Africans, Central Americans, Haitians, Yemenis, and Afghans are not.

It’s about a racial double standard but it’s also about an imperial single standard whereby the West recognizes “worthy victims” only on the US/Western and pro-US/Western side of the global political and moral divide defined by Washington and the mass consent-manufacturing US war and empire media. Victims (including white Serbians and Russians killed by US/NATO weapons and US-led Western sanctions) of the American Empire and its allies, agents, and clients are officially “unworthy” in dominant Western media-politics culture.

The United States wants Putin tried for war crimes but exempts its own leaders from indictment for such epic US transgressions as the arch-criminal US-imperialist invasion of Iraq (which killed more than a million Iraqis), the US-led destruction of Libya, thousands of US drone strikes that have killed thousands of innocents (including children) in Muslim nations, and countless barbarian acts of torture conducted by US military and intelligence personnel around the world.

The West grants Ukrainian war refugees automatic asylum and puts those emigrants at the front of the line for First World jobs and welfare benefits while it denies entry and protection to millions of Africans, Middle Easterners, Latin Americans, and Southwest Asians desperate to escape poverty and violence in their commonly war-torn lands. Ukrainians have been brazenly processed into the US at the Mexican border even as the US detention of Central American, Mexican, and Caribbean migrants has soared under Biden.

The US warns about Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling as the Pentagon dangerously modernizes its Strangelovian nuclear arsenal and menaces the world with enough nuclear missiles and bombs to turn the world into a radioactive ash-heap in a matter of minutes.

The US inveighs against Russian militarism even as its giant, historically unmatched military empire accounts for more than a third of global military spending and maintains more than 800 military installations across more than 100 countries.

The US finds it imperialist and authoritarian that the Kremlin doesn’t want a large NATO-aligned nation on its long Southwestern border. But anyone with five working gray cells should know that Washington would never tolerate Mexico planning to join a Chinese-run military alliance, install Chinese missiles aimed at the U.S., and conduct military exercises with the People’s Liberation Army.

The US political and media class insists that Putin is hellbent on war even as Biden and Washington have shown little interest in pursuing and promoting peace negotiations around terms that would let Putin stand down from further carnage in the wake of the difficulties his invasion has faced. There’s nothing mysterious about the off-ramps Putin needs for some kind of “mission accomplished” moment to save Ukrainian and Russian lives: official neutrality for Ukraine, recognition of the fait accompli of Russia’s takeover of Crimea, and readjusted sovereignty status for the two long-contested Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine provinces. Washington shows no inclination to help him stand down (more on this below).

The False Liberal Charge of What About-ism

Bring up these hypocrisies (as any morally and empirically consistent observer should) to your standard imperial Clinton-Obama-Albright Democratic Party liberal of the sort who now posts the Ukrainian flag on their social media accounts (and even perhaps one on their front porch or in their condo window) and you can expect to be accused of “leftist what-about-ism” – of providing cover for Putin’s crimes by bringing up US and Western crimes.

The charge is misplaced except when it’s aimed at fraudulent, pretend “leftists” of the disgraceful Consortium News sort who cynically and/or ignorantly confuse the reflexive dissemination of Kremlin talking points with credible “anti-imperialism.” No serious Leftist backs the fascist Putin’s war on Ukraine. Any actual Leftist makes it clear that their critique of US and Western/NATO imperialism neither means nor suggests any support for Putin’s latest hideous transgression.

At the same time, “what about-ism” doesn’t do justice to the monumental scale of US/Western/NATO crimes. Putin’s conduct is horrific, helping (along with his earlier butcheries in Chechnya, Syria, and elsewhere), but his body count ranks nowhere near that of Uncle Sam’s war masters in the last and present century. He’s a minor league killer compared to monstrous agents of global death and destruction who have ruled the world from Washington since 1945. (Please read my 2018 essay “The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of US Hegemony” for a useful summary of mass murderous imperial criminality on a scale that Putin could each only in his wildest dreams.)

A serious/actual US Leftist who brings up US wrongdoings while opposing Putin’s crimes does not do so to justify the latter but rather to demonstrate credible moral consistency in denouncing Putin’s offences. How can a US-American expect to be taken seriously opposing Russia’s misdeeds when he or she fails to confront and fight against their own country’s past, ongoing, and frankly much larger imperial misconduct?

Explanation is Not Excuse

Fourth, it is impossible to understand and thus to meaningfully oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine without factoring in the role of US/Western/NATO imperialism in sparking and producing the historical context for the invasion. If you want to meaningfully oppose and stop something terrible and prevent its recurrence, judging it as bad and punishing it alone will not suffice. You need to understand why it occurred and why it is continuing. Explanation is critical and should not be confused with excuse. One does not justify U.S. gun violence by pointing out that the United States’ epidemic of mass shootings is a predictable outcome of the nation’s lax guns laws combined with the widespread sale and possession of firearms, massive social inequality and alienation, and a commercial media that promotes bloodshed. In a similar vein, one does not defend or forgive the fascist fiend Putin’s despicable, mass-murderous conduct by pointing out that the US has provoked his invasion of Ukraine over many years of “poking the [Russian] bear.” If we want to stop domestic US gun-carnage we have to acknowledge and reverse its underlying causes. If we want peace in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, we need to stop inciting Moscow and its malevolent warlord. Washington’s NATO-expansionist and Russia-humiliating foreign policy is a big part of the explanation for Putin’s monstrous presence atop the capitalist, sub-imperialist Russian state and for the outrageous, atrocity-filled Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The Hague or the Destruction of Ukraine”

By all indications, Washington does not want peace and seeks instead a long drawn-out Ukrainian war that will bleed Russia and serve the interests of US-American arms makers, oil and gas producers, and agribusiness. As Noam Chomsky recently observed, citing the reflections of retired US diplomat Chas Freeman:

‘China’s unwillingness to devote its efforts to a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine conflict deserves criticism, but it is hard to see how such criticism can properly come from Americans. After all, China is adhering to official U.S. policy. Simply put, the policy is to “fight to the last Ukrainian for Ukrainian independence” while offering no way to save Ukraine from further tragedy. Even worse, current policy undermines such hopes by informing Putin that he has no way out: It’s The Hague or proceed to destroy Ukraine…The quote and the opinions just paraphrased are those of one of the most astute and widely respected U.S. diplomats, Ambassador Chas Freeman, who goes on to spell out the options, and to remind us of the history. Like anyone who cares in the least about the fate of Ukrainians, Ambassador Freeman recognizes that the only alternative to Russian destruction of Ukraine — which, with their backs to the wall, Putin and his narrow circle of siloviki can implement — is a negotiated settlement that will be ugly, offering the aggressors an escape. He also carries the history back further than we have done in our earlier discussions, back to the Congress of Vienna of 1814, which followed the Napoleonic Wars. Metternich and other European leaders, he observes, “had the good sense to reincorporate [defeated] France into the governing councils of Europe,” overlooking its virtual conquest of Europe. That led to a century of substantial peace in Europe, which had long been the most violent part of the world. There were some wars, but nothing like what preceded. The century of peace ended with World War I… Freeman goes on to remind us that the victors in the war did not have the good sense of their predecessors: “The victors — the United States and Britain and France — insisted on excluding Germany from a role in the affairs of Europe, as well as this newly formed Soviet Union, the result was World War II and the Cold War.”’

No interest in a new “century of peace” is remotely evident in the Biden administration, which hopes to tighten the screws on Putin no matter the cost for Ukrainians and Russians. Post-Cold War US policy towards Russia continues to emulate Allied policy towards Germany after WWI – a lovely historical role model.

It’s the Hague for Putin or proceed to murder Ukraine, nothing in-between to save untold thousands if not millions of lives – this with the understanding that Washington’s war criminals must never face international prosecution and incarceration. It’s the Hague for the invasion of Ukraine and the crimes of Bucha and Mariupol but not for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the crimes of Fallujah, Nisour Square, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bola Boluk, and Fallujah.

Fight Capitalism-Imperialism, Not its Wars

None of this analysis is justification for Putin’s latest invasion. There’s no “what-about-ism” advanced here. What is proposed instead is morally and intellectually consistent opposition to imperialism, militarism and war criminality on all sides of the world’s geopolitical divides. What is so difficult about hating more than one thing at the same time? F Putin, his fascist police state, and his chilling, pre-genocidal claim that Ukraine is not a legitimate nation. F the atrocity-prone Russian paramilitary Wagner Group. F Russian state media. F NATO and NATO expansionism. F Biden-Harris, Blinken, and the Pentagon. F Russian troops who massacre civilians. F Ukrainian troops who execute captured Russian soldiers. F the “defense” (war) corporations cashing in on the Ukraine War. F the North American fossil capitalists cashing in on the slashing of Russian oil, gas, and coal exports. F any and all Ukrainian nationalists calling for NATO actions (No Fly Zones and NATO jets over Ukraine) that could lead to the World War III. F Western commercial and corporate war media. F’em all. No War. Peace Now.

What about this: fight eco-cidal racist and sexist capitalism-imperialism, not ecocidal racist and sexist capitalism-imperialism’s wars? Glory to those who heal the wounded. Glory to those who oppose imperialist war and the world capitalist order that gives rise to such war.

Ukraine Broke the Brain of What’s Left of the Left

Actual Left anti-imperialist radicals cursed with social media accounts have been watching Ukraine further break the brains of much of what’s left of the online US “left.” On one hand, one’s more Democratic Party-affiliated “friends,” “followers,” and commentators have gone wobbly for the corrupt bourgeois oligarchic nationalism of the multimillionaire Zelensky. They place Ukraine flags on their online accounts (and front lawns and windows) with zero concern for how the wannabe Churchill has essentially called for World War III, opposed territorial concessions required for peace, crushed internal opposition, and tolerated open Nazis in his government and armed forces. They wrongly charge “what about-ism” and Putin allegiance against antiwar internationalists for pointing out basic historical facts on Washington’s central role in creating and sustaining the Ukraine Crisis (this accusation comes no matter how often and loudly an actual Left anti-imperialist says that Putin is a fascist and that his invasion is criminal). They end up as useful idiots for US imperialism, consistent with their captivity to the imperialist Democratic Party, as with this preposterous comment from a prolific Facebook commenter named Michael Dawson: “The US and NATO deserve none of the blame! The political left is siding with Russia.”

On the other hand, there are the small but strangely ubiquitous online “left”-identified folks who read and write for noxious red-brown hack farms like Consortium News, where a ridiculous website that adheres to the doctrines of the demented Russian white nationalist Alexander Dugin is presented as a legitimate primary source on atrocities in Ukraine. This is truly the anti-imperialism of idiots. The online legions Trumputinish fake leftists toe the Kremlin’s line. Functioning as useful idiots for Russian propaganda, they transmit preposterous Moscow claims that Ukraine is a “genocidal Nazi state.” Their dedication to running interference for the Kremlin goes to the obscene length of calling well-documented Russian massacres in Ukraine Western “hoaxes” and “fake news.” They preposterously fantasize that the Putin is bringing down the American Empire when the invasion of Ukraine has helped boost US “Atlanticist” power through the consolidation of US-dominated NATO while US-led economic sanctions on Russia are a boon for US corporate and financial interests. In the name of “multipolarity,” they can see no oppressive and imperialist powers worthy of denunciation other than the US. As CounterPuncher Dan Hanrahan notes, “there are tens of thousands of American leftists mesmerized and apparently lobotomized by the promise of a ‘multipolar’ future. [They think] we should abandon our pursuits of post-capitalist democratic futures and embrace the Shangri-La of a world ruled by a bourgeois democracy hegemon, alongside a couple of authoritarian fashy capitalist hegemons.”[1]

It’s all very reptilian. Call them out on their nonsense and they inform you that you “love [U.S.] imperialism” – this even if you have marched, spoken, and written against US imperialism for decades. Love is hate, war is peace, and 2+2=5 in red-Brown world.

Under the Cover of Ukraine, Homeland Fascism Marches On

In other news, white nationalist Christian-patriarchal fascism continues to all-too quietly advance with minimal Democratic Party and liberal opposition or recognition in the United States. The Amerikaner fascist war on women, gay rights, minority voting rights, public safety, and public health is running full speed ahead as the media maintains its focus on Ukraine with occasional breaks for inflation, mass shootings, and other short-lived shock stories. Joe Biden’s strawman Attorney General, perfectly sur-named after an inert decorative object (Garland), shows no serious interest in prosecuting the Putin fan and fascist Donald Trump for trying to subvert and cancel the 2020 presidential election. The absurdly powerful and far right Simon Says Supreme Court is poised to viciously assault the rule of law by undoing constitutional precedent on women’s right to an abortion even though 72 percent of US citizens continue to back the Roe v. Wade decision. The Amerikaner Fatherland Party (AFP) of Trump, DeSantis, Hawley, Cruz, Gosar, and Carlson accused Biden’s Supreme Court appointee of being part of the globalist pedophilia conspiracy. Conventional wisdom in the reigning US media-politics culture reasonably holds that this party will follow the usual historical pattern and take back Congress in the upcoming off year mid-term elections. What the talking heads and pundits can’t say is that along the historical way the Republicans have become a fascist mob outfit ready, willing, and able to shred previously normative bourgeois electoral & rule of law “democracy.”

Particularly in the near total absence of an actual Left worthy of the label, it doesn’t look good. Applause is due, however, to the US-based revolutionaries and allies who wore green bandanas and undertook abortion rights demonstrations in fourteen US cities and towns last Saturday. Their determined opposition to the right-wing campaign to re-impose forced motherhood on US-American girls and women ought to shame the nation’s elitist liberal “pro-choice” establishment, whose fear of the mob trumps its willingness to fight back against fascist patriarchy. Liberals who applaud Ukrainian resistance to the depredations of the fascistic monster Putin might want to think about turning off MSNBC and CNN long enough to hit the streets and public squares to engage in a meaningful social movement politics of popular struggle beneath and beyond the “killing confines” of the savagely time-staggered big money mass media major party candidate-centered electoral extravaganzas that are sold to the corporate-managed US citizenry qua electorate as “politics” – the only politics that matters.


+1. We have recently been given a look at the look at the glorious future promised to humanity by Superpowers noted named the United States in Shanghai, where, as the Daily Beast reports:

‘Residents…are screaming from the windows of their apartment blocks, according to several videos now going viral on social media…The city’s 25 million residents have had to take six COVID-19 tests since April 3 and are prohibited from leaving their homes—even for food. The government has been dropping rations and people are using delivery services, though even those services are curtailed due to the restrictions…Those who test positive—including children—are forcibly carted away to quarantine hospitals, but those who test negative are still not allowed to leave their homes. Viral videos show people in physical tussles with security personnel and screaming that they are out of food…Videos of desperate people screaming from their high-rise apartments were followed up by even eerier clips of a drone hovering overhead beaming out a robotic voice telling residents, “Please comply with COVID restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.”’

Perhaps someone like Ben Norton needs to call this story a Western hoax – a dystopian sci-fi production created in Hollywood.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).